Category Archives: Cock fighting

The man with the gap in his teeth

Words and photos by Cara Wilwerding

The first thing that strikes you about Elinson Diaz Ramirez is the slight gap in his front teeth, noticeable only when he smiles at his father, a chef supporting a family of five. The family lives in a two-bedroom apartment with concrete walls, no plumbing and no doors. Elinson’s white teeth glimmer in the Caribbean sun as he washes sedans and rusty pickups outside of a cock fighting arena in Lo Fraile. He clenches these strong teeth as he slices up dead roosters, or gallos, after each fight, watching the blood dribble from their necks, yanking off stiff feathers with his reddened fingers and scooping out the entrails. The birds’ stomachs are still full of corn from the morning feeding. The gap in Elinson’s teeth shows up as he grins at old friends leaving the arena, often lending them money for 40-ounce Presidente beers and menthol cigarettes. But Elinson doesn’t go out drinking with them. Instead, he takes the remaining cash, sometimes as little as 200 pesos, home to buy rice and beans for his family.

This is a story about cock fighting, a brutal, loud and bloody affair commonplace to Santo Domingo’s neighborhoods, street corners and barrios. It’s about one man who dreams this sport can serve as an escape from his family’s poverty. About leaving high school to spend afternoons covered in dirt, gravel and rooster guts, surrounded by men shouting “Blanco!” and “Azul!” as they place bets on which gallo will survive another day. About brotherhood and camaraderie in a place where one bird’s death is another’s triumph. This is a story about the adrenaline, power and pesos many derive from cock fighting. A long shot at putting a meal on the table, a Christmas gift for two crying brothers, a means of survival.

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Finding your character

Words by Matthew Masin
Photos by Matthew Masin and Cara Wilwerding

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

How do you find the most interesting person at a cockfight?

Everyone  is yelling, screaming, waving money around and drinking. It all looks pretty interesting to me.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

For the first few cockfights I attended, it was nearly impossible in my head to figure out how to find someone to tell my story through, but that’s why talking with Bruce, Brian and others on the trip is so helpful. I think i’m close-so wish me luck!

Apparently, there’s a real problem of addiction to betting on cockfights. Everyone I’ve talked to acknowledges this and tells me about people they know who have lost significant possessions due to making a bet their butt can’t cash. Then when I try to ask how I can meet some of these people I’m met with, “I don’t know them personally” or something similar.

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

There’s a lot of shame involved, no one wants to talk about it. They want to have fun at the fight, and not think about money.

This is where going to the same neighborhood day after day has paid off. Finally someone I met earlier was willing to show me someone who has lost their home and their car from betting on fights. This man was too drunk today to talk with me for long, told me to come back Friday to the fight and we can talk then. So, send me luck.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Stanly and Alexis at a fight the other day.

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

These two were running in and out of the ring, grabbing the losing rooster and bringing out to the curb to smash it’s neck against a wall, tear off the feathers and bag up the meat.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding

Turns out, they disembowel the roosters for about $1 a pop and give the money to their father.

These quirky, smily and innocent kids are also really good mechanics, too. If there was more time, i’d love to do a story solely on them.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding

Feliz ano nuevo!

-M.

Stepping into the ring

Yesterday, Cara and I photographed a cockfighting tournament in San Francisco de Macorís with about 40 fights. We were told it would be “beautiful” by a few different Dominicans, and while personally I didn’t find it beautiful, I can understand what they meant.

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We rolled into the parking lot at the coliseum, made up of rocks and pebbles, and walked into the arena. From the outside, I couldn’t guess just how crazy things are going to get inside.

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Before we got to the ring, we walked through a restaurant area. Men drank Presidente beers, ate chicken noodle and shrimp soup and watched the fights on big TVs. Meanwhile about two dozen roosters paced and peered back and forth in cages through a large glass window as men looked up and down at them, taking notes on paper on who to bet on later.

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Through the next door, we were shown the locker room for the roosters, where they get their shanks taped on by the owners. Imagine a mix between a boxing locker room and a NASCAR pit and you’ve pretty much got the idea. The shanks are inspected for size then the roosters are ready to go.

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Finally, we were inside the arena, and everything got much louder. A man came through a door with two cloth sacks, stepped into the ring and hung the sacks from a scale, the roosters have to be in the same weight class (more boxing ties). The fun began.

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The arena erupted in yelling, screaming and the waving of fistfuls of cash. Bets were being made. Men just made eye contact, waved some cash and began to negotiate the bet. I couldn’t understand how anyone was hearing each other or how anyone could take the bets seriously.

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The roosters fought until one died or gave up. That was the easiest way to describe it. The most interesting thing to me, though, was the way the crowd reacted. I’ve photographed just about every sport you can imagine, from football to cricket, and this crowd was so different. The yelling and cheering came in short, 10-second waves, then died down. The tension, however, was always like you’re watching the Bulls in Game 6 of the championship game and Jordan was about the get the ball.

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Every blog deserves a Michael Jordan reference, no matter how bad.

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Stay tuned for more,

-M.

Christmas Eve on a gamecock farm

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Words by Cara Wilwerding
Photos by Cara Wilwerding and Matt Masin

Christmas Eve in the Dominican Republic is a feast day, said to be comparable to an American Thanksgiving. Dominicans travel across the island to dine on roasted pig, rice with corn, Russian potato salad, grapes and apples with their families. But rather than feasting, Matt and I took a two-hour journey to San Francisco de Macorís to visit Richard Hernande’s gamecock farm.

Many of these roosters, born and bred to fight to the death, will eventually become meals themselves. It’s tradition to cook the losing rooster after a battle lasting 10 minutes (or until one of them dies). Last week, one of Hernande’s roosters actually killed his opponent in 15 seconds.

Matt and I are anxious to see our first fight Thursday evening. Until then, here are some of the roosters and trainers who made our holiday so memorable.

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