Why Do People Watch Cockfighting Matches?

Cockfighting is a blood sport where two roosters are placed inside a fighting pit and made to battle each other until one is unable to fight due to serious injury or death. Cockfighting has been around for centuries and used to be celebrated around the world; however, many countries now prohibit the sport due to its nature.

As it is a form of animal fighting, many people view it as a form of animal cruelty and wonder why others have a passion for cockfighting.

Why Do People Watch Animals Fight?

Dog fights, horse racing, bear baiting, bullfighting, and cock fighting are some of the world’s most popular animal fighting games. Some of them have been around since the 19th century, and others have been around since A.D. 108. Among them, cockfighting is one with the longest history as, by some estimates, it even dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. 

Cockfighting was popular among the ancient Indians, Persians, and Greeks. It was then later adopted by the Romans. During the Tudor times, there was a permanent cockpit in the Palace of Westminster. It was said that George Washington and Andrew Jackson regularly held cockfights on the White House lawn. 

Animal fights can be intriguing, but what exactly about these fights gets people going? According to psychologist Sherman Lee, “People are fascinated by the imbalance between two animals and the struggle between life and death.” 

Erin Buckels, another psychologist, says that “There’s something about animal fights that draws people to it but also, at the same time, disgusts them. We know that violence, blood, and guts are physiologically arousing.” The psychologist notes that humans have the same appeal for watching violence between other humans, whether it’s a boxing match or a viral video of two people fighting.

In cockfighting, individuals watching fighting cocks duke it out in the pit. The more ferocious birds win matches as opposed to birds lacking in stamina or aggression. Some roosters come out with broken bones, other roosters come out alive but with serious injuries such as punctured lungs, while others end up dying, especially if sharp spurs are involved.

Research has found that observing violence and aggression, such as what occurs in cockfights, produces a flood of endorphins and enkephalins that triggers a pleasurable sensation. According to Abigail Marsh, a psychologist, and neuroscientist, the mechanism that triggers the brain’s reward networks can be activated when we are simply observing violence instead of participating in it directly. 

Of course, not everyone savors violence, whether it involves animals or humans. Many are actually repulsed by it. Individual differences in brain chemistry and structure play a role here; some individuals tend to eagerly pursue highly stimulating experiences while others avoid them. 

It’s important to remember that people’s reactions to violence don’t occur in a vacuum. Feelings towards animal fights are socially moderated on both individual and population levels.

Psychologist Abigail Marsh stated, “Whether someone enjoys watching a large predator consume another animal or not reflects the balance among emotions. Being scared of predators, feelings of awe, excitement, action, and novelty — those are the sort of things that draw people toward these experiences. The thing that pushes people away from them, obviously, is compassion, which is really powerful.”

Is It Illegal to Watch a Chicken Fight?

The legality of watching and participating in cockfights depends on the country. A lot of countries have an anti-animal cruelty law which includes a ban on cockfighting. Some regions ban cockfighting because it is closely tied to activities such as illegal gambling, illegal weapon sales, gang violence, and drug trafficking.

In the United States, any form of cockfighting is illegal in every state, and 42 states consider it a federal crime. Five states specifically prohibit adults from taking children to a cockfight. 29 states have made it illegal to possess animal fighting paraphernalia while 43 states made it illegal to possess or sell birds for fighting.

While there is already an existing ban, organizations such as the Humane Society (HSUS) are still working with Congress and their allies to upgrade the federal law about Animal Fighting Prohibition Act. 

Some of the amendments that the Humane Society has helped pass include making it illegal to transport birds across state lines for fighting and making attending a cockfight and bringing a child into one a federal crime. The Humane Society also actively fought opposition to pass a bill clarifying that the law applies to all U.S. territories. 

Aside from working with Congress, the Humane Society also works together with local law enforcement. HSUS assists the National Sheriffs Association in training officers nationwide on how to investigate animal fighting crimes.

They have also hosted numerous training sessions with the FBI and the Department of Justice so that federal agents and prosecutors can act confidently in arresting and rounding up individuals involved in cockfighting and illegal activities connected to it.

In turn, the law enforcement support being received by the HSUS includes having professional investigators who act as confidential informants that can provide intelligence to law enforcement and testify in court to aid the prosecution of animal fighters. The HSUS’ efforts are fruitful as a lot of those apprehended for animal fighting have pleaded guilty and put behind bars.

Where Is Cockfighting Most Popular?

In some regions, cockfighting is viewed as a tradition and part of the culture. In Indonesia and other eastern countries, cockfighting is associated with religious rituals. It should be noted that all forms of gambling, including gambling within secular cockfighting, are illegal in Indonesia.

However, the religious aspects of cockfighting within Balinese Hinduism are protected. The ritual called tabuh rah, which translates to “pouring blood,” is done to provide an offering to appease evil spirits. The blood of the losing cock is the one offered in the ritual.

India has a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in place but cockfighting is still a largely a famous activity during festivals. In 2018, the Supreme Court passed a judgment reversing several previous rulings, allowing cockfights for ritualistic purposes “in the traditional way,” meaning without knives, blades, and without gambling or betting. In southern Indian states, cockfighting is pretty common regardless of the purpose.

Not all fights in other regions are done for religious purposes. Many countries allow cockfighting as a sport or a form of entertainment. For example, the Philippines is famous for its legal cockfighting. Sanctioned cockfights occur weekly in arenas specifically made for cockfights.

During the height of the pandemic, online cockfighting (or online sabong) became highly popular, although it was subsequently prohibited due to the rise of criminal activities such as abduction, robbery, and even murders, connected to it.

The Philippines is also home to the World Slasher Cup, which is known as the “Olympics of Cockfighting.” Numerous game fowl expos are hosted in the Philippines, and many of these events attract enthusiasts from around the world. While cockfighting is fully legal in the Philippines, illegal cockfights also exist but are held in a secluded drag pit or in a location where the local law enforcement agency is less likely to intervene.

Cockfighting is also very popular in Central and South America. Honduras, in particular, allows bullfighting and cockfighting as they are considered part of the National Folklore despite the Animal Protection and Welfare Act passed in 2016.

Numerous animal welfare groups are pushing to ban cockfighting not just in several regions but worldwide. For them, roosters raised for cockfighting undergo harsh conditions even before being placed in a pit. Most roosters raised in a game stock farm are tied to a stake, or barrel, or live in a small wooden hut. Some birds are kept in a small dark box to be isolated from other animals in order to raise aggression. 

Just like how there are groups who are against cockfighting, there are also organizations who push for it. Take for example the United Gamefowl Breeders Association which ensures that each fighting cock is raised in the best conditions.

Final Note

Cockfighting is a sport that has been around for ages. Similar to other spectator sports that involve animals, many individuals find cockfights to be stimulating and exciting. To many, It is a mystery as to what it is about the violence of the sport that gets people going.

While science has yet to have an exact answer, some psychologists deem that observing cockfights triggers the brain’s reward networks, allowing individuals to experience a flood of pleasurable sensations.

While there are those who find pleasure in cockfighting, there are also those who have disdain for the activity. Organizations that are concerned for the welfare of animals heavily condemn cockfighting, citing it as an activity promoting animal suffering as most cocks suffer common injuries like broken bones and pierced eyes.

They also see cockfights breeding criminal activity such as possession of illegal weapons, illegal betting, drug trades, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of cockfighting?

For some regions, cockfighting is a way of life. Due to gambling and betting in cockfights, there is usually a great deal of money involved. A lot of individuals use money as a form of income or an additional income to the salary they receive. 

There are also individuals who have established businesses in cockfighting. In the Philippines, cockfighting is even a huge industry. There are those who breed and sell roosters, some offer specially-concocted feeds for the birds, and some craft gaffs to be used in fights.

Some also see cockfights as a way of community engagement, particularly among men. It is a game and a form of leisure for others, especially after a long stressful day working hard jobs.