Fighting Cocks: The Real Angry Birds

Out of town, past the only 7-11, when the smooth pavement turns to potholed patches of road and then to dirt, take a right. Drive through the ruts until you see a gate hidden behind several large shade trees, and park amongst the hundreds of cars and motorbikes belonging to those already in the know.

I knew cock fighting is a popular past time in Suwannaphum (if I’ve talked to you on Skype, you’ve undoubtedly heard the ones being trained behind the coffee shop I frequent), but I didn’t know every Saturday hundreds of men disappear to the outskirts of town to spend their day watching the spectacle.

It operates a lot like a Muay Thai fight, with fewer but longer rounds. The birds are divided into classes based on how well they’ve previously fought (unlike weight classes in boxing), and each duo fights for four, 30-minute rounds. When the best fighters finish Round 1, the second class birds begin their dual, and so on down the line until it’s time for Round 2.

The Suwannaphum venue is a large shed in the middle of a dirt field consisting of three rings, and spectators actively bounce between them.

Betting is rampant (despite the fact gambling is illegal in Thailand), which might explain the male-dominated crowd. The owner of the winning bird can earn upwards of 20,000 baht ($600; more than most Thais make in a month) at a weekly Saturday fight such as this. The stakes are even higher when the champions get together at larger venues Рa man told me I could watch a fight worth 50,000 baht ($1,600) if I wanted to drive to Roi Et.

I imagine the fight will be quite similar to the one I viewed outside Suwannaphum, with a much rowdier more intoxicated crowd and more aggressive birds, all of which sounds like fun until you factor in how long it takes to actually determine a winner.

Contrary to popular belief, the winner isn’t decided by the only standing (or living) bird after a long and bloody battle (in fact the birds very rarely die, I’m told by the daughter of a popular trainer, and the owner of the coffee shop I mentioned).

There used to be more gore, but the rules have changed (they don’t listen to the law on gambling, but the people in Suwannaphum at least, appear to be abiding by these restrictions). Rather, the fight is over when either one bird is severely hurt or, more commonly, gives up and walks away.

Neither of which happened at the show I saw, but in the two hours I stayed to photograph the event, the second round had yet to begin. I can only watch two angry birds wing slap each other for so long before I’ve seen it and I’m ready to go. Nevertheless, it’s quite an amazing sight to behold.¬†

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Fighting Cocks: The Real Angry Birds
Written by:Jessica J. Hill


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