Master Cockfighter

After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport

"There's so much people don't understand about cockfighting," Ratliff says, looking at me earnestly. There was a time when people understood it, he says. Now people have dogs and cats instead of kids. "Makes no damn sense."


For the Humane Society of the United States, the eradication of cockfighting has been the top priority since 1998, when citizen groups in Missouri and Arizona passed ballot initiatives that made it illegal in their respective states.

A fighting cock tries to attack a rooster Mike Ratliff is holding.
Mark Graham
A fighting cock tries to attack a rooster Mike Ratliff is holding.
Mike Ratliff gets around his chicken ranch on a scooter.
Mark Graham
Mike Ratliff gets around his chicken ranch on a scooter.

"This is such a black-and-white issue, we shouldn't even be talking about it," says John Goodwin, the deputy manager of animal fighting issues at the Humane Society, based in Washington, D.C. "These are very egregious forms of cruelty that society has simply outgrown."

There is no doubt cockfighting is a brutal sport, and that the roosters suffer an agonizing death. According to a Humane Society brochure, the birds are often drugged with stimulants and steroids to make them unnaturally aggressive. Razor-sharp steel blades are attached to their legs to inflict deep puncture wounds. Legs are broken. Eyes are gouged out. Dying birds are forced to keep fighting.

"The fact is that they've had to breed gamecocks to be artificially aggressive and to demonstrate a much higher level of gameness than their natural ancestors," Goodwin says.

Besides cruelty, there are other reasons to ban the sport, Goodwin says. Illegal gambling is the norm at every cockfight, he says, and drug dealing is rampant. On top of that, cockfights can contribute to violence. In the last year, there were two fatal shootings at cockfights in Texas, one in May in Starr County that left two men dead, and another in September in Fort Bend County, near Houston, that left one dead and sent another to the hospital in critical condition.

In several states, including Hawaii and South Carolina, cops and government officials have been arrested for running interference for illegal cockfighting pits.

"These are people that in most of the country their activity is illegal," Goodwin says. "So you mix crime, the blood and cruelty, the high-stakes gambling, you mix the firearms that people bring to protect the money that they bring to gamble, and sometimes you end up with really bad results."

On June 11, 2005, with police helicopters hovering overhead, dozens of federal agents swooped down on what was perhaps the largest illegal cockfighting pit in the United States. Called Del Rio, the Eastern Tennessee pit was reportedly owned by Don Poteat, the former president of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, the largest cockfighting organization in the United States.

When the officers arrived, a tournament was in progress. Those who tried to flee were stopped by police helicopters and the squad cars that lined the perimeter. All told, 144 participants were arrested that day. Three hundred birds were seized as well as $40,000 in cash, likely the pot the competitors were fighting their birds for.

In a press release days later, the Humane Society called the raid "the latest in a series of major blows to the world of illegal animal fighting." On Internet message boards used by cockfighters, the raid was dubbed Black Saturday. "I don't know how this will work out, but it don't look good," one poster wrote on the site gamerooster.com. "We got a war on our hands," another declared.

Despite the laws against it, cockfighting flourishes throughout the United States, but especially in the South. According to a booklet from the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, there were 4,848 gamefowl breeders in Texas in 2002, which is more than just about anywhere except Alabama and Indiana, Goodwin says. Cockfighting has been illegal in Texas since 1907 and is now a felony.

But there are loopholes. In Texas and other states in the South where cockfighting is illegal, it is not illegal to own a game bird or to watch a cockfight. In Alabama, where it is legal to both own a fighting rooster and to watch a fight, participation in a cockfight is only a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 fine.

The only way to stop cockfighting, Goodwin says, is to make it a felony in all 50 states. "If you can win $10,000 to $15,000, you're willing to risk a $200 misdemeanor fine," he says. In states where participation in a cockfight is a felony, most cockfighters take their birds to neighboring states where it is legal. Enter H.R. 137, a federal bill that was introduced two weeks ago by Congressman Elton Gallegly of California. The bill will make the interstate transportation of gamefowl, currently a federal misdemeanor, into a federal felony, which means the hundreds of cockfighters from Texas who travel to New Mexico and Louisiana to fight their roosters will be risking a whole lot to do so. It won't be long before cockfighting's illegal in New Mexico, too, Goodwin says. And then the organization will turn its entire focus to the last place where the blood sport is still allowed to thrive: the backwoods of Louisiana.

"We don't want to count our chickens before they hatch," Goodwin says, "but I think it's safe to say that cockfighting is on its last leg."


"C'mon," Ratliff says. "I've got something to show you outside. You won't believe it. It will imprint your brain and you'll know what we're talking about."

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12 comments
bebe1656
bebe1656

Im very proud of my self as one of the cocker and a smalltime gamefowl breeder in my country Philippines. After finish reading this articles, what a wonderful story about Mr. Mike Ratliff.Any one can give me the exact address where His gamefarm located in Blanket,Tx. Thank you more power....

Mharl_striker
Mharl_striker

I'm glad its legal in our country...proud to be a cockfighter...this is part of our culture and protected by our laws...

Xomox99
Xomox99

Not only Breeders of gamefowl need to UNITE, the Farmers, the grain mills, the Feed stores, the big name producers of feed, the Vendors of poultry products and the new cockers of today.Very one of these producers, merchants and breeders NOT TO MENTION the IRS will loss money. Uncountable millions.SO WHO IS GOING TO LEAD THE WAY TO A NEW WORLD ORDER OF COCKERS?THE GOVERNMENT WANTS A NEW WORLD ORDER OF MONEY AND GOVERNMENT LET'S BEAT THEM TO THE PUNCH.

Gani Reli
Gani Reli

As Ratliff says "probably just give them away but not just to anyone, I'll give them to a cocker".

Well, I am a cocker too, and it is legal in my country to own and fight roosters. Send some of them to me in the Philippines and I will take care of every single gamefowl I could get to continue the heritage and preserve the bloodlines to the best I could, he! he! he! But I am serious.

Thanks,

mark lee
mark lee

i want to purchase a set of of game hens. how do i do that from here?

aj
aj

the way i see it; all cockers must be united.we all have to think as one and fight for that reason. The humane society is a very strong organization. we can not fight them by just writing letters to our representatives, because it's just a waste of time.we all know that a lot of people in this country are being misinform about the matter. The group are bunch of liars, opportunistic fools that will stop at nothing to make millions... I strongly believe that by educating people about these birds it will help us all in the future.we just have to work together.......

joe
joe

i think cockfighting should be legal, because it is a way of life for many people and it is not cruel, and people do not make the roosters fight. they fight on their own, just like boxers and ufc fighters have the choice to fight, they are violent and cruel to each other, but it is not animal cruelty. some day everyone will see just how extreme the humane societ is, and see that the humane society really doesn't know much about animals, and the humane society are mainly after all the money they are getting donated to them, but yet they don't give any of the money to the animal shelters, the animal shelters get money from the taxpayers, not the humane society. john goodwin himself is a convicted felon, for burning fur traders homes, stores, and barns, he is also a high school drop out, all the humane society is worried about is getting money in their pocket.

thank you for your time

smyers.era
smyers.era

I know Mr. Ratliff may not keep up on this site with all the unecessary bs on it, but hopefully someone cool can just pass this on to him.

Just wanted to say hello and God bless you Mr.Mike Ratliff, from a couple of your O'l students! And we are honered to have been givin the opportunity to attend your, only one of it's kind, School. Our Graduation Certificates are proudly displayed on our Office wall next to the Trophys. Glad to hear you still have your General Cross's! I know you are of German decent, and honed and refined those Roosters with the same precision that the Germans did when they designed the Mercedes Benz! Anyone fortunate enough to be handed down such an amazing creature better damn well appreciate it! But you keep your beautiful birds for as long as you can. A wise man once told me they teach you alot about Life and they keep you healthy and happy! So live long and prosper Mike! Thanks for all that you have done for us, all the way to the Supreme Court you fought for our rights and won! You are an inspiration for fighting for, if nothing else, for what you believe in. We should all take note!

I understand that there are alot of people that don't care for the sport, I get it. But it's more than that, it is our very freedom as Americans that is at stake here. If they took our freedom away all at once, there would be a Revolution! So they are doing a little at a time, I guess so we won't notice it. I notice it! 

Signed, One of your best students, (once I learned the important difference between human chicks, and game chicks!) *Chuck Myers*, & following along with tradition, daughter, and second generation student, Sherri Myers.

 Still alive and kickin it out here in the good o'l US of A Oklahoma!

See you at the fights, where bein in the Pit's, is a good thing!

 

Old Roosters never die, they just get a new Cocker built!

smyers.era
smyers.era

Spell check, HONORED. They would not let me back in  to edit! ("~")

 
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