On weekdays, Marvin and his sons work hard building houses and designing iron furniture, gates, and windows. But, when the weekend arrives, they spend their time the way most macho Nicaraguan men do: training roosters to fight to their deaths with small razor blades attached to their legs.
Like NASCAR is to rednecks, cockfighting is a cultural event of grand proportions in Nicaragua. All sectors of society are brought together to pop beers, place bets, and cheer on their favorite cocks in the ring. Living among galleros (those who train and fight the roosters), it seemed only fitting that I should learn more about this gruesome blood sport. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to attend a real cock-fight. I’m a chicken when it comes to blood and a frenzied fight to death.
So, when we were invited to Lauren’s 10th birthday party (Marvin’s daughter) and I spied cages of courageous cocks, my curiosity overcame my fear…only to explore this violent sport that brings out the machismo in most Nicaraguan men.
Marvin’s son proudly introduced me to the champion cock. He was three years old and had won the last three fights in a dirt ring at Johnny’s bar on the beach. I wondered how they choose a champion and Alejandro explained that it is very similar to training a boxer. When the chicks hatch, they are carefully monitored for the strongest and most aggressive roosters. Apparently, roosters are born with a congenital aggression toward all males of the same species and they quickly become natural enemies.
The cocks are given the best care until near the age of two years old. A good training program involves running the roosters to build stamina, and throwing the bird in the air over and over to build wing strength. Their lower bodies are plucked of all their feathers, and their skin is massaged daily with the juice of sour oranges and lemons. This treatment hardens the skin, making the cocks less vulnerable to punctures and pecks from the opponent. I do know that the sour orange juice makes a delicious marinate for grilled chicken, so it seems to me that when the dead cock goes into the cooking pot after losing the last battle, it is kind of like a well seasoned Butterball turkey.
The champion stared down the shaken brown rooster, waiting patiently for his opponent to be released. In less than a minute, the practice fight was over. Basically, there was a lot of squawking and strutting by the cocks, and a lot of cheering and clapping by the birthday party goers. This was my kind of cock fight…no injuries…no blood…and wholesome entertainment for everyone involved.
In order for the rowdy roosters to train for the added weight of sharp hooks or razor blades, and to feel comfortable in the ring with little daggers strapped around their legs, they wrap a nut in a soft piece of leather and strap it around one leg of the cock.
In a real cock-fight, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs, called gaffs, or razor blades tied to the leg where the bird’s natural spur used to be. They often remove the natural spur of the rooster, and sometimes the comb and wattles are cut off to protect the gamecocks from their opponent’s sharp claws.
The champion pounces on the loser. Five minutes later, the little brown rooster hobbled out of the practice ring. They explained that in a real fight at the local arena at Johnny’s Bar, the roosters are weighed first. Then, the razors or hooks are strapped to their legs, the bets are cast, the beers popped, and the fight begins. The frenzy flapping in the rings lasts for 15 minutes, or until one bird dies in the ring. The winner recuperates for several weeks before the next fight, and the loser is thrown in a pot for a soup befit a Monday morning hangover.
This is the closest I will ever come to watching a gory, bloody cock-fight. I don’t think I will ever understand this cultural blood sport, but then again, I could never understand NASCAR either. Below is a video of a real cock-fight in Nicaragua…if you dare.