My Central American Cockfighting Experience

Cockfighting Match Begins in Nicaragua

Cockfighting Match Begins in Nicaragua

Telica, Nicaragua

The sport of cockfighting is older than many religions. It’s been practiced in all corners of the globe. I decided to find out for myself why it’s so popular.

My first Central American cockfighting experience happened in the little town of Telica, Nicaragua. It wasn’t just any-old occasion either, but a special event that only happens twice a year.

Farmers from surrounding communities gather in Telica to test their prized fighting birds against each other. The events here are like the “SuperBowl” of cockfighting (which is also called gallera in Spanish).

Cockfighting Gaff Nicaragua

Attaching a Sharpened Metal Spur

Rules of Cockfighting

Rules for fights differ depending on the country. In Central America, there are four 15 minute rounds, with 15 minute breaks between each. A sharpened metal spur called a gaff is attached to one leg on each of the birds.

Roosters have a natural spur in this area but it gets removed when they are young to prevent them from killing each other.

The artificial gaff is added to give the animal it’s weapon back, and also helps to speed-up the killing process.

In some countries like India the bird’s natural spur is never cut off, and used in the matches rather than an artificial one.

Cockfighting Match in Nicaragua

Let the Games Begin!

Big Local Fiesta

The day started like most cockfighting championships do, with drinking in the town’s Central Park in the middle of the afternoon. It was a fair-type atmosphere with ferris wheels and other carnival rides for the kids. Plenty of food concessions and bars with outdoor seating kept the adults happy too.

I met up with my new Nicaraguan friends Delver, Oscar, and Pedro to chug a few cervezas before we headed to the arena.

While walking we passed a big parade that stopped to set-off incredibly loud fireworks in the middle of the street as a marching band played festive music.

After we paid our $2 entry fee, a doorman led us into the walled outdoor compound where 2 fighting rings were located. There was a main arena complete with wooden stadium seating, lights, and a metal roof.

The second fighting ring was a smaller, typical farm setup made of pieces of cardboard & wood.

Cockfight Crowd in Nicaragua

Crowd Watching the Action

Gambling & Drinking

We headed straight for the main arena to get a good seat up front. It’s a good thing too, because 5 minutes later 200 drunken people rushed inside as the first fight was about to begin.

Before the match both roosters are “warmed up” with a 3rd one.

A handler sticks it in the faces of the other 2 birds, holding it just inches away to rile them up. The spectators start shouting and gesturing to place bets with each other on which animal will be the ultimate victor.

A bell rings and the two feathered fighters are set loose on each other. Then the real action begins.

Cockfight Birds in Nicaragua

Which Bird Will Be the Champion?

Cockfighting is Brutal

The birds began attacking by jumping at each other using their feet and beaks as weapons. Bird handlers yell instructions at their prize fighters and clap when they want them to attack.

When first blood was finally drawn, the crowd goes wild. The initially snow-white birds begin to get stained in red as the first injuries occur. One rooster’s sharp beak stabs at his opponents eyes, while the metal spur attached to his leg occasionally finds its mark as he jumps & hovers mid-air with the help of his wings.

Bloody feathers start to float around as the combatants wildly attack in a blur of motion.

After 15 minutes the first round was over. The handlers brought their fighters back to their corners, and began to prepare them for round two.

Bloody Cockfighting in Nicaragua

White Turns to Red

Emergency Rooster CPR

Blood is cleaned out of their eyes (if they still had them) so they can see again. Wounds were wiped with a rag, and damage is inspected.

One handler gave his bird mouth-to-beak resuscitation. It was slowly dying and having a hard time breathing. Blowing into the rooster’s beak cleared it’s airway, giving it a chance to continue in the next round.

But the 15 minute pause was soon over and the fighting resumed.

After all, it’s not over until one of them is almost dead…

Bloody Cockfighting in Nicaragua

Mouth-to-Beak Emergency CPR

A Champion Emerges…

It soon became clear who was going to win this match. After over 25 minutes of frenzied fighting, one of the birds had just given up. It wasn’t jumping anymore, and eventually stopped standing upright altogether. The handlers still egged him on though, trying to put it back on it’s feet.

Unfortunately there was no hope for this guy. The winner kept attacking, landing repeated blows with it’s metal spur. Blood gushed from a gash on his opponent’s neck. The fighting went on for at least another 5 minutes, just prolonging the inevitable.

Finally the ref stopped the match and announced a winner. Even with his bird clearly on the brink of death, the handler wasn’t very happy. He thought the match should continue.

He believed his practically paralyzed rooster still had a chance. But it was painfully clear to everyone else that it didn’t…

This cockfight was finished.

Bloody Cockfighting in Nicaragua

This Chicken is Cooked

My Thoughts on Cockfighting

Many countries have outlawed cockfighting, including the US. I wanted to experience the sport first-hand before I made any judgements about it. Now I have.

Roosters are naturally programmed to attack each other, and they are endowed with natural weapons for this specific purpose. It’s Natural Selection in action. Only the strongest survive, which leeds to a stronger species.

Sure, adding sharpened metal spikes is a bit different. But the artificial gaffs lead to quicker deaths than if the roosters were using their own natural spurs.

As for turning it into a spectator’s sport: if I saw two roosters attacking each other in the wild, I would probably sit down and watch. But that’s me.

In a perfect, animal-loving world, the birds would be allowed to live long and healthy lives in rich fields of golden sunflowers. But that world doesn’t exist, and will never exist. Nature never intended for that world to exist. Animals have been killing each other since the beginning of time. It’s not going to stop. PETA can’t change basic laws of nature.

These birds are a source of food for Nicaraguans, not pets. If they didn’t fight them to the death, they’d eventually just chop off their heads and eat them anyway. That’s the way it is. There is no 3rd option.

Put yourself in the chicken’s feet!

You only have two choices. A long & carefree life isn’t realistically one of them.

If you were a rooster, how would you rather leave this world? Getting your head chopped-off and then eaten? What about receiving a chance to fight for your life? If you win, you are fed and cared for like a member of the family, and get to mate with all the hens in the henhouse. :)

Stop the Fight When it’s Over

The only problem I have with cockfighting is the fact that when one of the birds was clearly finished, the fighting was allowed to continue. When a bird is slumped over in the dirt, bleeding profusely and not moving, the match should be over.

Letting the winner continue to stomp on the loser at this point is just torture, and not sport. I had the feeling that the crowd agreed with me. The shouting and clapping stopped when the sport stopped.

We all loved Sylvester Stallone’s miraculous comeback in Rocky IV, but that half-dead rooster won’t do the same thing! ★


What Do You Think?

What’s your opinion on cockfighting? Would you watch a match?

Location: Telica, Nicaragua
Cost: $2.25 US
Useful Notes: Cockfights usually happen on Sundays in Nicaragua, but not every week. Ask around to find out when and where a match will be happening.

Matthew Karsten is the Expert Vagabond. Addicted to adventure travel and photography, he's on a mission to inspire your next journey with entertaining stories, beautiful images, and useful tips. Vagabonding around the world since 2010. Follow along! Email Updates | Facebook | Twitter |

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Tell Me What You Think!

Comment Rules: Critical comments are fine, but rude ones will be deleted. Have fun, and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • http://www.pinayonthemove.com/ Grace

    Cockfighting is also very popular in my home country but I have never had the desire to watch it because I really don’t like to see animals die in front of me. Although you do make an excellent point about how they do die eventually and not from a natural happy death.

    • masud rana

      Thanks, Idont like the cockfight.because bloody game.

  • http://quillcards.com/blog/ David from Quillcards

    First rate article. My first thought is to wonder what is does to the mentality of the people who watch cockfighting repeatedly? Does aggression make them more aggressive? Is that good because life is like that? Is it bad because life is capable of heading towards other directions?

    Again your photos are excellent -

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I’m not sure. Blood sport has always been popular all over the world. The US even has it’s own version, it’s called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. :)

      I also know plenty of non-aggressive people that enjoy watching aggressive sports.

  • Trish

    Didn’t look at the warning pictures, can’t stomach animals being hurt by either natural or unnatural means, I turn the channel on the nature channel when the lion is going to kill the zebra. I think this is one experience I will gratefully miss. You do do a great job of explaining the experience and giving all points of view. I enjoyed the commentary

  • Stephanie

    I would definitely have watched a cock fight if I had the opportunity. Although I haven’t watched one for myself, I have a feeling I would generally come down on the same side as you have. As someone who comes from a place where I have never had to worry about my next meal nor had to actually kill my next meal, I do not want to judge others for customs that have been created related their survival.

    Great photos (disturbing yes, but still great) and great writing!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I thought giving people the option to view the disturbing ones was best.

  • http://Www.myfellowgeeks.com Dave

    Fantastic photos and a great play by play. I would love to experience this type of thing. I’ll try anything once. Your photos are very artistic and very visual. While I may never get to see a cockfight in person, at least your photos captured the event and i felt like I was there. Great work! Now back to my regular scheduled program and my chicken nuggets!!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I’m the same way Dave. Glad you felt like you were there, that’s what I was trying for. :)

  • Bluegreen Kirk

    It just amazing how peoples views are different from country to country in the US you would be arresting for cock or dog fighting or anything with animals killing one another.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Yeah, I’m amazed at how much I’m learning from traveling to these places.

  • http://www.kaluyala.com/community/author/davismann/ Davis Mann

    Can’t argue with your logic here. This isn’t a dog fight, where each animal has a legitimate alternative to a gory ending…like bull fighting in Spain, it’s a spectator sport where animals domesticated by man (primarily for food) are slain in the act of a show or spectacle. After all, they are only allowed to survive based on their respective capacities to provide more utility(e.g. to grow, thus providing more meat, or to mate…). It ain’t pretty, but it’s also exhibited in shady, withdrawn locales, witnessed only those who choose to see it.

  • Jake

    Where can I go see a cockfighting event in the US?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      You can’t, it’s illegal here. :D

  • adam

    cock fighting is a great sport for all ages and has been forever. if your not fond of it dont participate. its that simple.

  • http://www.bleacherviews.com Jimto

    Excellent post you have here about cockfighting. This is the first time I had a glimpse of how cockfighting is played in Nicaragua. In my country the Philippines, this sport is also very popular so much so that every day there is cockfighting going on. You just have to choose the city where you want to go to see a cockfight and you’ll be able to watch one whatever day it is.

    I agree that the game was quite long lasting for 25 minutes. Here, the fight is up to 10 minutes only and upon reaching that time, if both roosters are still pecking, it will be declared a draw. But cockfighting in the Philippines rarely reaches 10 minutes because we are using the long knife. the fight can be over in just one strike in rare cases and up to two minutes generally speaking.

    This is already a long comment because I liked your post. More Power and keep spreading the news about this sport and tradition.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Happy you enjoyed it Jimto! :) I think it’s wrong to judge how other cultures do things without knowing the whole story. There’s plenty of stuff my own country does that many people around the world consider “wrong”. Judging others is an arrogant activity.

  • Erick

    War between humans never ends. Bombs, and bullets. But people want to call cockfighting inhumane. I have always wanted to raise a rooster from birth to train it to fight

  • WAYNE WAHBURN

    i AM NOW 76 YEARS OLD AND STARTED GOING TO COCK FIGHTS WITH MY DAY WHEN I WAS 12==MY FATHER WAS FAMOUS THROUGH PUT THE SOUTHEASTERN USA FROM THE 40/S INTO 1080. HE WAS A BREEDER OF QUITE FINE LINE OF FIGHTING COCKS==WISH I COULD ATTEND ANOTHER FIGHT. SOME OF THE BEST FRIENDS I EVER HAD WERE IN THAT SPORT

    • g. Mckenzie

      i feel exactly the same/ our fathers were close to same time…whate state or states was he in? i am glad my father did not experience the total outlawing of this ancient sport in the u.s. he passed on.

  • joseph

    Hi. I’m a cocker, from the philippines and i’m into the sport of cockfighting. I agree with the views of the author about cockfighting. I would just like to comment on his statement about when the fight should end. Different countries have different rules on the game. Here in most part of the Philippines the “koyme” (referee) will be the one to facilitate the game. The winner will be decided in several ways

    1. If one of the cock dies, The survivor will win.

    2. If both cocks are still alive but cannot fight anylonger, the “koyme” will pick up both cocks and allow them to peck each other. Whoever does not peck anymore will be the loser. Two pecks is all you need to win.

    3. If the cock will run away from the fight , it will be declared as the loser.

    these rules are made so that the fight will be stopped if it is over….

  • John

    I grew up raising and fighting these fine animals, It is truly an art meets science sport. I sure miss it.
    I wonder, has our nation improved under this new law to ban cockfighting ??? Not so much!
    Politically correctness is tyranny with manners!
    freedom is FREEDOM
    By law, I must pay for immorality through taxation but I can’t fight gamefowl!