Master Cockfighter

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

But we won't go down without a fight, Barron says. Call your representatives, write a letter to Richardson, but most important, make your voice heard on the Senate floor if it comes to a vote. "This is your way of life," he says.

When he finishes, he hands the microphone to a Hispanic man, who offers the same speech in Spanish. His voice rising like a tent-revival preacher, the crowd erupts in applause and shouting as he finishes. For a few minutes, there is concerned conversation about the future of the sport and that "son of a bitch" Humane Society. And then the conversation shifts back to the business of the day, because already, the president of the Legion Club of Jal is about to call the first fight.

In the narrow hallways where the roosters are kept, there's a palpable feeling of tension. The birds might feel it, but they have no idea what they're in for.

After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport.
Mark Graham
After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport.
Chicken huts on Mike Ratliff's chicken ranch.
Mark Graham
Chicken huts on Mike Ratliff's chicken ranch.

Over the loudspeaker, the numbers of the first two competitors are called. It's a Texas schoolteacher versus a man with a shaved head. Those who haven't already moved to the main arena rush over, hoping to find a seat with a decent view.

"You ready to see your first chicken fight?" a man named Hector asks. He had been explaining the fine art of the chicken fight when the numbers were called. He is 22, from Roswell, New Mexico. He's a rookie but learning fast. Animated and quick to smile, he wears a tilted Yankees cap and a gold cross. Perhaps he is the future of the sport.

He leads me through the crowd and we find a spot to stand near the pit, a metal cage beneath four fluorescent lights. A rusty gate is opened for the handlers, who are carrying their roosters in the crook of their arms, petting them nervously. The schoolteacher kisses his rooster's head. He removes the scabbard from the curved, inch-long blade on its leg.

"Bill 'em up," the referee says. They are beautiful birds. One is an orange red; the other has a white head, a red body and bluish tail feathers.

They are brought beak to beak. Their handlers rock back and forth on their heels, letting the roosters peck at each other. The feathers around the roosters' heads, called the hackles, flare out like a fan. The referee makes two chalk lines about eight feet apart on the dirt floor. The schoolteacher stands behind one line with his bird, and his opponent takes his place behind the other. The ref gives a signal, the birds are placed on the ground, and then they are let go.

Cockfighting has been compared to boxing, but I can see few similarities. Unlike boxing, there is no stalking of the opponent, no tentative jabs to test reflexes and reactions. Instead, the birds break at each other without hesitation. They are vicious, unrelenting and singular in purpose. There is only one boxer I have ever seen who attacked his opponent the way a rooster attacks his, and that is Mike Tyson in his prime. He fought with rage in his eyes, each punch going for the knockout. Roosters fight the same way. It is a blur of color and flapping of wings and scratching and clawing and suddenly one rooster is on its back, or hobbling away in a panic, its wing or leg broken.

It's hard to follow the action, to see the knives do their damage, and usually there is little visible blood. In fights like this one, where short knives are used, it's usually over within minutes. One rooster will strike a lethal blow, and the other will fall to its back. The hurt bird will attempt to keep fighting, and sometimes it will run away. Usually the bird that is hurt first is the bird that loses.

One of the roosters is hobbling around. The other stalks it, lunging in with his beak. The birds flap their wings, they flail in the dirt, their talons are tangled and the referee calls for their handlers to pick them up.

One sucks the blood from his bird's beak, to keep the bird from drowning in its own blood. The other blows into a wound that appears to be under a wing.

"What's he doing?" I ask Hector.

"His bird's going into shock."

One of the birds, the one that appears closest to death, is slapped under its beak again and again by its handler. Finally, its eyes open. I wonder why the referee doesn't stop the fight. Hector explains that even when it appears that all hope is gone, a dying bird can land the perfect shot and cause a mortal wound.

When the fight is finally over and one bird is dead, and the other appears close to it, the two men, their hands stained in blood, shake hands and leave the pit to make way for the next fight.

As Hector talks about the importance of cockfighting in Mexican culture, and how this latest effort to ban it in New Mexico is flat-out racist, my eyes follow the loser as he pushes his way through the crowd. He carries the dead bird by its legs. As he nears the hallway where the rest of his birds are kept, he drops it unceremoniously in a trash can.

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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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