Two Sundays ago, I watched an activity that I had longed to watch for years: Cock-fighting.
Upon the invitation of my father-in-law, Atty. Jacinto “Jack” Mendez, we went to Ubay, Bohol. It was their annual fiesta and we were 11: Joining Jasmin, Jana and I were Jourdan and Jingle Polotan; Francis, Michelle, Micco and Micaele Palmares; my parents-in-law Jack and Malu Mendez.
In Ubay, we inhaled the fresh breeze from the Mendez resthouse-by-the-sea and gorged on eat-all-you-can-finish crabs, humba, shrimps and wasay-wasay shell.
That Sunday, after hearing mass, the three Js – Jack, Jourdan and John — drove to the Ubay Sports Complex. It’s an indoor facility where basketball games are played and beauty pageants are organized. But on that morning, it was a different pageant: Cock-Fighting!
Outside the gym, dozens congregated – many, feeling like the Freddie Roaches of Bohol, were holding their prized possessions: their fighting cocks.
There was an entrance fee. And it wasn’t P25 or P35 cheap — it was P150. Jourdan and I paid P300. Guess what? After being given the ticket, we were stamped. Not the customary Waterfront Hotel-style stamp on the wrist. We got the stamps on our necks! Ha-ha. This is going to be fun! I said. Excluding the “chikinini” that we all got in high school or college, it was the first time I had a mark on my neck. Great start.
In the middle of the gym stood the “boxing ring.” Built for the weekend fiesta, railings enclosed the square. Plastic seats and wooden tables surrounded it. Sand covered the floor.
It was 11 A.M. and, in a few minutes, a once-yearly contest will happen. It’s called “Karambola” and it’s not the usual battle. Because — like in boxing – it’s normally one vs. one; but in karambola, they throw all fighting cocks in the arena at once and, whoever doesn’t (pun intended…) chicken-out and whoever emerges as “the last chicken standing” is declared the winner of P10,000.
Imagine this type of free-for-all in boxing? Or in MMA? An enclosed, Octagon-like auditorium and, after 20 warriors are released, whoever is standing alive is the winner. Crazy thought.
It’s like Gladiator. Only, this wasn’t a movie set in Rome but a thrilling Battle of Bohol starring animals that have made KFC, Max, and Sunburst famous.
As the dozens of chicken crowed and the excitement heightened, the emcee grabbed the microphone and made a roll call of each entry. Each fighting cock was representing their barangay! Wow. There was a giant “kabir” that was, literally, “heavyweight.” There was a midget participant. Yes, only half the size, he was quick-footed. (Able to hop and bounce away, he was hardly touched in the actual fight.) Each fighting cock was outfitted with a sharp blade.
Vice Mayor Constantino Reyes, who sponsored the 10K prize money, welcomed the participants. He made special mention of a special man seated beside me and Jourdan: the highly-respected Ubayanon, Jack Mendez.
A priest said a prayer! Would you believe that. As if to bless the about-to-be-slaughtered, this opening act in Ubay beats Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas.
Finally, after a countdown, the 20 or so fighters were jointly released. It was a mad scramble. In one corner, three fighting cocks would tussle. Some jumped and escaped the blades. Feathers flew. Blood spilled on sand. Necks were slashed. Lifeless chicken would, one after another, be left sleeping forever. Dusts of sand would fly.
At the sidelines, the owners would scream. They’d jump if their warrior would score a kill. Some winced at the brutality. Within minutes, two men entered the ring and grabbed the dead. They’d throw them outside, in a corner. After several minutes, half of the fighters were comatose, dead or too scared to fight and had to be plucked out.
Finally, nearing 20 minutes, only three survived. Two handlers would engage them one after the other. In the end, the one owned by Tata (below photo) was declared the winner.
What a first-time experience! No wonder every Sunday, when Pacman’s not on TV, hordes of men would flock to these arenas and gyms. It’s heart-pumping. It’s life or death. It’s MMA and blood minus real people.