One of the most popular blood sports in the world is cockfighting. It involves two cocks facing off against each other inside a pit, fighting each other until one is subdued or in most cases until one is killed. The nature of this blood sport has garnered controversy all over the world, with cockfighting being prohibited in some countries citing cruelty against animals, while other countries embrace it as tradition and a part of their culture

While cockfighting may sound as straightforward as placing two roosters in a pit to fight each other, the sport is actually not that simple. Cockfighting involves a certain set of rules that are mostly the same across the world, only with a few aspects of it that can vary from one country to another. In this article, we’ll be discussing cockfighting rules that participants have to abide by.


How Do You Play Cockfighting?

In many parts of the world, cockfighting is played the same way. Two owners place one rooster each inside a cockfighting pit and allow the roosters to peck at each other first. Like other sports, cockfighting also has a referee or a judge. Upon the signal of the referee, the two cocks are then released by their owners, and the fighting begins. 

Gambling is an aspect that cannot be separated from cockfighting. While the roosters attack each other in the fighting pit, surrounding them are spectators that yell to cheer on one of their favored cocks to win, as well as to shout their bets. A fight ends when one of the birds cannot fight anymore due to injury or, in most cases, death. 


How Does Rooster Fighting Work?

Cockfight events are held in cockfighting arenas. Most pits ask for a small entry fee if one wishes to participate in a cockfight, whether as a spectator or a cock fighter. Fighting arenas usually have an area where spectators can take a look at the participating cocks, allowing them to scope out the odds for the day. Before each fight, cocks are weighed and measured to match them up with other birds of similar size. 

After weighing and matching, cocks are fitted with gaffs on one of their legs. The gaff is the weapon that allows each fighting cock to bring injury to another or result in the death of their opponent. Gaffs are usually a sharp, 3-inch blade fastened to one of the legs of each cock, meant to imitate and replace the natural spur. In some countries, only specialists are allowed to attach the gaffs to the legs of each cock.

Before a fight, the referee calls for the cock owner and their bird. The cocks are then made to peck at each other for a couple of moments and are then released into the pit once the referee gives the signal. 

Inside the arena, spectators can be divided into two parties, one side or color for each cock. 

Matching Fighting Cocks

In general, the rules for matching fighting cocks are the same everywhere around the world. All birds that weigh even or within 2 ounces of each other automatically match. As for cocks weighing 6-5 and over are matched at catch weights. 

In tournaments or derbies, a cock brought to the scales must not weigh a fractional part of an ounce over the stipulated weight and must not weigh less than 3 ounces under the stipulated weight. If the cock is over or under the stipulated weight, the referee will order the pitter to bring in a cock that will make the weight. 

The referee will wait for an alternative for a reasonable period but no longer than the time limit of 20 minutes. If the cock fighter has not produced an alternative, it is his duty to go to his opponent’s cock house and search for a suitable cock. The referee is free to declare the offending entry a loser if there is no alternative or if the entrant refuses to bring the proper cock to the pit. 

Fighting clubs are urged to institute house rules that include imposing a specified amount of money fine for failure to comply within the agreed time limit in heeling. Such fines are payable immediately and are added to the club’s purse. 

Why Do Cocks Fight in Cockfighting?

Cocks naturally fight with each other in the wild to establish territory or mating rights. However, when it comes to the birds used in cockfights, the cocks are specifically bred to be highly aggressive and fight for dominance against other cocks. They are trained for numerous months before a fight and are fed with a special diet that can increase not only aggressiveness but also their fighting ability, stamina, strength, and build. 


Rules of Cockfighting

Around the world, cockfighting has more or less the same rules. It may only vary when it comes to the gaffs used in fights. Here are the rules of cockfighting in general: 

General Cock Fighting Rules

  1. Upon entrance to the pit, the referee will weigh the cock entrant, check its band number, and carefully examine the gaff (if used) to see that the cock complies in every way with the rules. Cock owners are also allowed to check weights and gaffs.
  2. After the referee declares cocks that are eligible to fight, the referee will then initiate quick heating that lasts a minute. In heating, cocks are released on the pitting lines about 6 to 8 feet apart. if a cock is disabled in any way in the heating, it is classed as negligence on the part of the cock owner. 
  3. The referee will call for the owners to take hold of their cocks after the heating. Afterward, the owners will be asked to place their entrant cock in front of their respective score lines in the pit. The cocks are to be released immediately at the order of the referee, and the fighting begins.
  4. At all times, the cock owner and the cock will be in full view of both the audience and the referee. Once the cocks are released in the pit, cockfighters must position themselves six feet away from their respective cocks and must stay at that distance until the referee orders a handle.
  5. Cocks must not be touched at any time during a fight, by either the handler or the referee, unless the order of a handle is given. Cockfighters must promptly obey.
  6. An order of a handle will be given if a cock is hung in his opponent, the pit, himself, or in case of a foul. An owner must pull the gaff from his own cock and he is not allowed to touch the opposing cock at any time except after the order of a handle to protect himself or his cock. Mashing or unnecessary roughness is a foul.
  7. Each fight is interrupted by 20 seconds of rest. At the end of a rest period, the referee will call “Get ready,” followed by the command to pit which should be issued no longer than five seconds after the get ready call.
  8. A cock is entitled to a count if he fights last or when the other cock runs away. A count is only given when called for by the owner of the cock entitled to the same. The pitter calling for the count has a time limit of five seconds, otherwise, he loses the right to count. It is the referee who decides whether the count is asked for in the five-second period. 
  9. A count is done in three Tens, and one Twenty (established by long custom and order of rules.) Counting shall always be done by the referee. 
  10. When the cock being counted out fights, the referee will call “Count broken,” and when given once more, it will start with the first Ten. A cock breaking the count by fighting is entitled to the count himself if the opponent’s cock does not fight. If a cock having the count dies, the opposing bird wins the fight. 
  11. If the cock is a runaway, he cannot win. Neither entry will receive a credit for the fight on his scorecard. If the bird has a count run, the opponent is entitled to the count. 
  12. If both cocks are running and neither has the count, each entry loses a full fight.
  13. If both cocks are dead or dying, the fight is a draw. Each entrant is rewarded one-half fight on the scorecard. 
  14. Runaway cocks cannot win under any circumstance, while dead cocks are only entitled to a draw. The referee is to continue all counts before rendering a final decision.
  15. If both cocks stop fighting or run and neither has the count, within five seconds, the referee shall automatically call a time of 20 seconds, three times. The referee shall call out “Time if Going On” and at the end of 20 seconds, call a handle. Each time call will be 20 seconds, along with 20 seconds of rest between pittings. If neither fights, the match is a draw unless both are running. 
  16. A dead cock is, in the opinion of the referee, one that is actually dead and not dying. A dead cock loses to a live cock if the latter is not a runaway. The referee is to continue the end of all counts or time before rendering a final decision or making an examination of the birds. 
  17. The question of the gameness of a cock being a runner shall be left to the discretion of the referee at all times. Additionally, no fresh cock will be brought into the pit to test the gameness of another cock at any time unless the opposing cock is physically unable to show fight.
  18. If or when a cock leaves the pit during a fight under any circumstances, he will automatically lose any count or counts that he may have. The referee is to immediately order a handle and give time. The cock remaining in the pit receives the count only by fighting when next ordered by the referee.
  19. If the cock that has left the pit is not present at the end of a 20-second rest period for the order of the pit, the rooster remaining in the pit automatically receives the count, if not running or dead. In such instances, the referee will continue through all counts and rest periods before making a final decision.
  20. If the gamefowl is brought back at any time, he is to be pitted at the commencement of the next pitting. If he is not brought back at the commencement of the 20-count, he is declared the loser if the rooster in the pit is not dead or running.
  21. In cockfighting terms, “fighting” means striking, chasing, or pecking the opponent. When birds are motionless and one or both are holding and neither owners claim a count, the referee shall give Time. 
  22. There is no time limit to a cockfight. However, in most cases, fights can take approximately 15 to 20 minutes. 

Gaffing Rules

When it comes to weapons, rules vary in different parts of the world. Perhaps the only common rule is that the gaff is to be attached to a cock’s feet and nowhere else. In Mexican fights, the weapon is a short knife that measures 1 1/4 inches in length. It is attached to the left leg of the rooster. 

In underground American fights, the weapons used are called American long heels, measuring about 2 3/4 inches in length, attached to both legs of the rooster. In Philippine fights, the weapon used is a Filipino long knife attached to the left leg of the rooster, typically measuring anywhere from 2 3/4 inches to 4 inches.

Tournament Rules

Cockfight tournament rules differ from regular cockfighting matches. The method and rules in cockfighting tournaments were devised by Sol P. McCall of Louisiana, often called the “Father of the Tournament.” In 1908, he introduced a “new” way of matching cocks. Because of the nature of a tournament, it is necessary that the weights and number of entries be determined in advance so that those who want to participate may know how many fowl will be needed.

Tournament rules state that the referee or referees are selected by the pit management. They are to be accepted as satisfactory by all entrants upon signature of contact or by payment of entry fee. After the entrants have accepted the referees and signed acceptance by payment of entry fee or signature, any decision of the referees regarding the fights will govern. 

Potential entrants are also advised to demand a sizable forfeit to assure a full entry list. The withdrawal of an entry during the course of the tournament would upset the predetermined match list. The majority of pits have now included in their tournament house rules that all entrants sign a contract in which they agree to fight all fights to a finish, regardless of their place on the scorecard. 

Cocks are banded to prevent substitutions or switching in the tournament. Bands are affixed by the referee or his appointed assistant prior to the start of the event. The bands consist of a different series of numbers assigned to each entrant. The referee keeps a record of the number and checks them when cocks are brought into the pit.

In recent years, it has become the custom to band the cocks in any entry’s cockhouse and permit him to use any of the gamefowls desired, as long as they meet the weight requirements in the tournament rules. 

Derby Rules

A derby is a cockfighting event where the participants agree to fight a given number of gamefowls matched according to parity or proximity in weights upon the result of which a pool of prize money is disposed of and paid by the federation to the winners. Referees in derby fights are selected by the pit management. 

In derby matches, gamefowls are also banded. Cocks are matched according to their weight, and these details are included in the weight card. The band side of the card is deposited in a sealed container, kept in view of all participants. A referee or matchmaker makes a blind match, band to band.

After the match-ups, the bandbox is opened and lists the corresponding band numbers and weights in a call book in his possession. This method eliminates the excuse of bringing the wrong cock to the scales.

Should a referee find a bad weight, band, or any infraction of the rules, he is to call the local committee (usually entrants) and let them say how to resolve the matter. The completed matchboard is secured in a public place visible to entrants and spectators. 

In derbies, the fight sequence shall strictly follow the procedure of early fight, early finish, late fight, and late finish. The interval between the fights of an entry approximates that of any other. The first five fights or more, depending on the number of fights, shall start with the pairs of lowest weights, in ascending order. The next number of fights shall start with the pairs of highest weight in descending orders. 

To be declared a winner in a derby, a cock must take two (2) pecks or one (1) hit directed at but not necessarily touching the opponent, and the latter neither pecked nor hit back during the confrontation. The winner takes home a fixed prize money amount.


Is It Illegal to Have Cockfights?

As cockfighting is a type of animal fight that almost always results in the death of a bird, it is frowned upon and outlawed in numerous parts of the world. However, cockfighting is also legal in several countries, citing tradition and cultural ties as their main reasons. In some cases, cockfighting is even viewed as a national pastime or national sport.

Is Cock Fighting Outlawed in the Philippines?

Cockfighting is both legal and illegal in the Philippines, depending on where the matches are held and to what level. Also known as sabong, legal cockfight events occur in licensed cockpits every week while unauthorized cockfights are held in secluded pits. Gambling in fights is also legal and in fact, the Philippines has specific terms and guidelines when it comes to betting. 

Cockfight events are highly embraced in the Philippines and are even nicknamed a national sport. The Philippines also plays host to numerous international cockfighting events such as the World Slasher Cup, which is also known as the Olympics of the cockfighting world.

For a time, online cockfights became popular as it was easily accessible via the internet. However, due to numerous crimes and issues caused by online cockfighting, the government has now banned any online cockfighting operation in the country.

What Happens if You Get Caught in a Cockfight?

If you are caught attending fights, especially in countries where cockfighting is outlawed, you may be subject to prosecution. You will either serve time or pay a fine, depending on the anti-cockfighting law of the place you were apprehended at. 


Final Note

Cockfighting is a sport where two cocks are encouraged to combat, and typically, a fight ends in the death of one rooster. In some cases, gamefowls endure severe injuries and only live to pass on afterward. The bloody nature of cock fights is seen as a form of cruelty to animals in numerous countries, leading them to outlaw cockfighting. 

Despite that, cockfighting remains popular in several parts of the world. Fights are viewed as a tradition, a part of a culture, or a religious practice. In nations where cockfighting is legal, fights follow a set of rules and guidelines to ensure that entrants and spectators alike are in agreement and understanding of the competition.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I report a cockfight?

If you live in an area where animal fights, cockfighting, in particular, are outlawed and you know of any underground fights, please contact your local enforcement authorities.