21 June 2005
Cockfighting is a bloodthirsty but lucrative business in Mexico
Story by : David Agren
A conservatively dressed gallero (rooster owner), wearing clean Levi's, a white collared shirt and white tennis shoes carried one of his prized fighting birds into the round ring. He caressed the rooster as he waited, even kissing it gently on the head. An official then tied a curved razorblade to the rooster's foot with red string, identifying the bird by colour -- like a boxer. Once fastened, the referee squeezed a lemon over the glistening blade, ensuring any foreign substances were cleaned away. Finally, the gallero unleashed his rooster into a fight for its life.
The rooster in the green corner pounced first, however, mortally slashing its opponent's leg. Less than a minute later, the white-necked rooster from the red corner lay dying in the ring. With the rooster unable to stand, the referee declared the fight over the moment battered bird's head touched the dirt floor. A boy, probably no older than ten, scooped up the carcass, carrying it from the ring upside down. A caretaker later swept up the feathers and blood-soaked dirt.
The scene played out 14 times that night at the palenque de gallos (cockfighting ring), a stuffy building on the fairgrounds in Tlaquepaque. The cockfights usually go before some sort of entertainment. In Tlaquepaque, it preceded a nine-piece mariachi band dressed in garish avocado green costumes. Besides Mexico, which usually only sanctions the events during large fairs, Louisiana and New Mexico remain the only jurisdictions in North America where cockfighting is legal.
"This is a very cool pastime," said Jose Vila Lorente, a stockbroker from neighbouring Guadalajara, who brought business associates visiting from Mexico City to the palenque.
Tough might better describe the event and the atmosphere, attended mostly by beer-swilling men wearing cowboy hats, who wagered large sums of money. The high rollers all sat ringside -- drinking imported liquor and flashing high-denomination bank notes - placing bets with corredores (bookmakers). The minimum bet: 1,500 pesos. Less-affluent fans sat on narrow seats further up from the ring, making side bets among themselves. A Pepsi vendor flashed a 200-peso note, but found few takers in our direction.
"People with money come here," said Jesus Grimaldo, a security guard who attends the cockfights when visiting from California. "I only come to watch."
But even he couldn't resist betting on No. 4 during the inter-match roulette.
"Sometimes I win," he said, making an excuse for his repeated bad luck.
Vila, on the hand, came to bet big, pooling his wagers with a buddy. He kept picking red, but for reasons he couldn't fully explain. He offered some tips though on what type of rooster to bet on.
"When you look, the legs are the first place," he said, pointing at a rooster on a leash, being led around the ring by its handler. "Look at the legs, if they're tall, that's an advantage."
Another advantage is a muscular appearance (he didn't explain how he ascertains that).
"If there's a lot of fat, then no."
Galleros raise hundreds of roosters, training each one like a prizefighter. A good rooster can sell for hundreds of dollars -- only to be reduced to a heap of feathers in mere seconds by an equally vicious opponent.
"A rooster is like an athlete ... (like) a boxer," said Jose Arceo, a cab driver who occasionally attends the cockfights. According to Arceo, the roosters "exercise," working out under the gallero's watchful eye.
Galleros also develop a reputation. The event program in Tlaquepaque listed four galleros who entered their roosters in the high-stakes showdowns. At the larger fairs, they compete for 100,000-peso jackpots.
Although not a popular diversion for urban Mexicans, cockfighting still permeates the culture. Taking a cue from the roosters, many tough guys dub themselves "gallo." Basically, guys who have huevos (literally translated: eggs, but colloquial for testicles).
"It's really macho," Grimaldo explained. "(Those guys) fight easy. If someone doesn't respect them: (the gallos) fight them."
As the night wore on, the roulette wheel never stopped on No. 4.
"I lost 650 pesos," Grimaldo complained. "Sixty-five dollars is too much for me."
The last match lasted less than five seconds with one rooster slashing its opponent's throat. When the losing gallero casually dangled his dying bird upside down, blood rapidly gushed out.
After pocketing several large bets (his share of the winning wagers) Vila surprisingly acknowledged, "For me, (cockfighting) is cruel.
"But in Canada, [they] kill seals."
A version of this ran in the Ottawa Citizen.