Computerized scoring is not real cockfighting. It is sad state of cockfighting. It is a compromise on liberty and more of a business entrepreneur greed on selling these computer paraphernalia and services. Marketeers can do manipulate our decisions.
– Gameness til the End
Photographed by Steven SANDFORD – FDB
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The two combatants encircle the fighting ring, eyes focused , heads moving side to side. The hungry crowd roars in anticipation as the competitors suddenly clash in a flurry of blows. Opposing trainers raise their hands in the cloud of krungtip cigarette smoke, accepting the barrage of bets as the battle heats up. Money exchanges hands as the swarm of spectators transcend into a frenzy of noise and motion. This ain’t no Mike Tyson mismatch or World wrestling Federation tag-team bout. This is Amazing Thailand and the two opponents doing battle are fighting roosters, in a “sport” more commonly known as cock fighting.
In rural parts of Thailand, cock fighting goes back hundreds of years and in a country where gambling is illegal it is not uncommon to see plenty of Thai currency exchanging hand . As the Asian economy struggles to recover from the crisis, cock fighting is booming!
In fact, for Prakong Peracab, 58, a retired banker living in Chiangmai, cock fighting isn’t just a hobby. It’s an alternative way to earn a living.Peracab started raising fighting chickens ten years ago after borededom set in with the life of a bank teller . The occupation quickly changed from a part -time hobby to a full time job and today he is working on his prize fighter in a stable of 20. Peracab’s “trainer” quickly sutures up a series of nasty gashes on the top of “Tong Dang” who has won its owner a career – high of 11,000 baht in a less than glamourous career. While the stitches are being applied with a simple sewing needle another man wipes down the chicken’s mane with a steaming bunch of wet greens and a hot towel. The scene resembles a fight sequence out of Rocky with the street -wise surgeons working away to patch up the beleaguered and battered combatant – and like the seedy world of boxing for bucks, there seems to be little regard for the fighter.
“Some big fights can bring in 200,000 Baht, ” explains Artit Kunyodying, who takes a quick smoke break while parking the cars in the dusty makeshift lot at his uncle’s fighting yard in Chiangmai . The 19-year old is serious about a sport in which his family has been involved for decades. Training the chickens is an art with each top fighting chicken getting its own personal trainer. Kunyodying gives a personal exhibition as he grabs hold of a chicken and presses it up against a bamboo dome-shaped enclosure . Inside, an obviously agitated young plucker starts to ruffle his feathers. Within seconds, the enclosed dome is spinning on it roller as the chicken inside starts crowing and running around the thatched upside-down bowl. “You see,” points out Kunyodying with a beaming grin, “This is how we get them to run. We do it everyday to keep them in shape for fighting.”
Beyond the exercise yard lies the fighting grounds where rural farmers have brought their chickens to fight, sell and generally preen for the crowd.The main ring area has a 20 baht (.75 cents Canadian ) entry fee for spectators sitting in the first four tiers while curious onlookers can watch from the crowded top row for free. Off to the side , a smaller canvas covered ring encloses the preliminaries and less important bouts. Money changes hands following the bouts as winners and losers settle up while the roar of the next match sounds in the background. Bottles of Sangtip whiskey and Chang beer make the day’s contests a social event as well as competitive one. The crowd resembles a Saturday night smoker boxing card in any city. So what is the difference between a Thai fighting chicken and one hailing from Burma. Kunyodying is quick to response. He explains, ” Burmese chickens move around and think out their moves while the Thai chicken just moves straight in.”
The price of a good fighting cock can range from between 1,000 baht ($45 Canadian) and 10,000 baht ($430) with monthly feeding costs of about 100 Baht for a diet of broken rice. Current export of Thai cocks to Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei is valued at more than 1 million baht a year.
In a move to make the sport more acceptable to the western discerning eye the Thai Native Chicken Conservation and Development Association (TCCDA) held an International Amateur Cock fighting competition in Chon Buri province. Competitors from China, Japan , Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Laos and Cambodia took part in a recently standardized competition. Each fight is five rounds, lasting 15 minutes per round with 3 minute breaks between rounds. The cocks were also classified by weight and height from straw weight to heavyweight. Winners and losers were judged on birds running away or failing to maintain a fighting stance. As well those chickens caught crying out on three separate occasions would automatically become losers. No criers in this bunch. “The combatants even had gloves on their claws and an Olympic style computer to keep score- just like the Olympics,” notes Mr. Abhichi, head of the TCCDA centre.