The International Writers Magazine:Can Chickens Kick-Box? They
can in Phnom Penh
the Chickens Can Box in Phnom Penh
is usually the day that I go to watch Khmer kickboxing in Phnom
Penh. But on this particular day, my driver, Sameth, promised
to take me to see something really exciting. We turned down a
dirt road, about twenty minutes outside of the city, and ended
at a dubious looking arena, in a rural farming community.
big foreigner with the notebook received a lot of odd stares, and a
portly Khmer, in a dirty T-shirt gave us the third degree. Who
are you? What are you doing here? Who told you about this place?
I felt like a spy, sneaking in on some illicit activity that was to
be kept secret from outsiders. After I had answered all of the questions
to his satisfaction, the man gave me a stern warning. If you take
any pictures, I will take your camera.
A crowd of Khmer men stood around the waist-high fighting ring, animatedly
shouting, gesticulating and waving their bets in the air. We pushed
to the front, to get a better view, just in time to see a cock, with
a blue stripe, leap onto the neck of a cock, with a red stripe, tearing
into his flesh, with the sharp metal blade attached to his foot. The
blue rooster was clearly the superior combatant. He grabbed reds
throat in his beak and dragged him to the ground, kicking and pecking
at his face repeatedly. The dirt floor was stained black, with the aged
blood of fights past.
As a professional boxer, it was easy for me to look at cock fighting
as an extension of boxing. There were two opponents; blue and red, in
a ring, fight for the glory of their handlers. Spectators bet money
and cheered for their favorite fighter. They even used a gong to signal
the beginning and end of each three-minute round, as in boxing. But
cock fighting was different. First off, the roosters didnt get
any of the money the won. Secondly, there were weapons involved. In
many matches, the roosters had metal spurs strapped to their foot. In
other fights, called natural-spur matches, the cocks used the spur of
a dead cock as their weapon. The only analogy to professional boxing
at this point would be if the opponents were allowed to hit each other
with broken beer bottles. Another major difference was that, where natural
spur fights often ended with one or both cocks sporting injuries, the
metal spur fights often went to the death.
Thinking red had died, I was reviewing my chicken CPR techniques, when
the gong sounded, signaling the end of the round. Interestingly, instead
of using a clock, the rounds were timed using a bowl, with a hole in
the bottom, placed in a large vessel of water. It took approximately
three minutes for enough water to seep into the bowl. When the bowl
had sunk to the bottom, the round was over.
The handlers separated the combatants, and took them to their respective
When I fight, I am used to getting a massage between rounds. But in
cock fighting, the handlers worked feats of voodoo magic. Reds
handler began by kissing his beak, and kissing his wounds, as he washed
the limp corpse. The handlers lips were now coated in chicken
blood. Next, while mumbling some secret words, he spit first one, then
another mouth full of water, directly into reds face. The water
spewed pink, from the handlers mouth, mixing with the blood of the wounded
animal. The magic apparently worked, dragging red back from the point
of death. When the handler, lovingly, blew the third mouthful of water
in reds face, red suddenly perked up. Not only did he return to
life, but he was able to answer the bell for the next round.
In the end red lost. Some of the gambler began grumbling about my camera
again. I hadnt taken a single photo, and yet people apparently
wanted me to leave. An older Khmer man signaled for me to come sit with
him. Anything you want to know, you can ask me. He said
in passable English. The crowd backed off. I learned later that he was
a high ranking general, and that I was to remain under his protection
for the rest of the match.
Fighting roosters are generally between eight months and a year
old. My new friend explained. Fights last for four, three-minute
rounds. Metal spur fights are much faster than natural spur fights,
which could go on and on, with no clear winner. He went on to
explain that there were various species of chickens. The cocks
from Vietnam have spurs, whereas the ones from Thailand dont.
For this reason they fought in separate rings. After the fight, special
doctors worked on the birds, stitching the wounds, and caring for them,
so that they would live to fight another day. All of the men crowded
around the medical table, arguing, and replaying the exciting moments
of the fight. Money changed hands, and it was clear that betting was
a huge part of the game.
Did you bet any money? Asked my new friend.
I would have, but I heard someone paid the red cock to take a
Take a dive? he asked in astonishment. Do you mean
someone paid the red cock to throw the fight?
Oh yeah, I heard he owed money all over town. Throwing the fight
was the only way out.
My new friend didnt know what to make of me. In real boxing if
a fighter is suspected of taking a dive once, he will loose credibility
and never be able to fight again. Maybe red will give up fighting
and get a job in the movies. I suggested, thinking of a good friend
of mine. Maybe you should go back to Phnom Penh and watch the
kickboxing. He proposed, not unkindly. I was glad to have seen
the cock fighting once, as a cultural experience.
But in the future, I think I will stick with boxing.
© Antonio Graceffo Dec 2004
The King Of
Editors note: Hackwriters in no way endorses cockfighting, bullfighting,
any bloodsports with animals.
all rights reserved