Blood Sport

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.

IMG_1117 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.

IMG_1118They demonstrated a practice fight for me. First, Marvin’s son shook the brown rooster in front of the champion, taunting him to fight, like a shake and bait tease.

IMG_1119The 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.

IMG_1120Marvin’s other son, Jose, lovingly held the champion once again after the practice fight.

IMG_1124 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.

IMG_1126The 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.

A video of fighting cocks.

16 thoughts on “Blood Sport

  1. Ugh. I’m with you on this one. I’m not interested in NASCAR either, or boxing or other such things but the cock fighting bothers me even more. Roosters have no choice.

    • Ugh is right! My son went to a cock-fight here last year, but fortunately none of the cocks died. I’m afraid I’ll never understand, even with the practice fight..I kept gritting my teeth and closing my eyes. When I taught high school..I got caught in the middle of a fight between two teenagers. My glasses went flying and broke and I was terrified. I can’t stand fights of any kind..human or animal.

  2. What is so sad besides the cruelty…is the gambling and $$ for basics down the drain. A cultural addiction. Thanks for the details. I had no idea about massaging them with sour orange and lemons. You pointed out the tricks to the trade. I agree. I put this up there with Nascar.

    • Oops..maybe I shouldn’t have pointed out their tricks…haha As far as the gambling, you are right. It is a cultural addiction. I don’t think most Nicaraguans have a concept of saving for a rainy day. If they have the money..they spend it. Most locals don’t have a basic understanding of budgeting or interest rates. I’d love to see a class on budgeting in the secondary schools. It’s an alien concept. Thanks, Lynne. Glad to hear someone else feels the same way about NASCAR. 🙂

  3. Traveler Peter Bragiel visited Nicaragua in 2011
    He narrated his experience at a cockfight.

    Browse to

    Watch other trips: ( in Bold, on the right middle side )
    2 – Mexico/Central America: by Bus

    Scroll the list to here and click

    Episode 21: Cock Fight
    Simply put, a Cock Fight.


  4. Not something I would want to watch, but I suppose you have to compare it to other battle sports in an arena. There’s boxing, in which two men beat each other to a bloody pulp (and give each other concussions). There’s also football (more refined, if you will, but still resulting in concussions, broken bones and other injuries). And there was the gladiators and lions in the Roman Colosseum. It seems many in the human race enjoy watching others inflict harm. For proof of that, there’s the popularity of violent video games like World of Warcraft. Males, in particular, are hardwired for aggression. This was brought home when I interviewed behavioral scientists at our university for a magazine article on aggression. Young males are competing for scarce resources: money, power and females. It’s in their nature. (there are always exceptions). It’s a complex subject.
    Although cockfighting is illegal here in Hawaii, it still goes on in the more rural areas.

  5. As much as we like this place, remember this: Along with the cock fights, there are those here who participate in a ritual in which they beat each other with elongated, petrified bull penises. Now that is strange.

    • Thanks for the interesting post, D. This is an aspect of Nica culture I haven’t dared look at closely. I appreciate your brief tutorial, but will skip watching the vid. This is not something I can begin to comprehend. Maltreatment of animals (& humans) is excruciating for me, which makes it really hard to set my judgments aside for a moment or 2 to attempt curiosity & an open mind in order to maybe gain even a glimmer of appreciation or understanding. Like bullfighting in Spain (or many other things), I am curious about something that is so deeply ingrained into a culture. I don’t get NASCAR either. 😉

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