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Feature Story May 1, 2002
Cock Killer
By Mark Ames Browse author Email

The newspaper Bolshoi Gorod said that the CIS cock fight championship would take place in VDNKh's Pavilion 23, Saturday morning at 9am. In fact, Pavilion 23 is just a crappy greenhouse exhibition. Inside Pavilion 23, the light was the color of bad beer, filtered through a dirty tarpaulin roof. Posters of cucumbers and tomatoes adorned the walls; calendars with cucumbers, or tomatoes, or cucumbers and tomatoes together, were taped on the entrance doors.

Oleg shows off "Sergei", winner of a 1-1/2 hour bloodbath

Oleg shows off "Sergei," winner of a 1-1/2 hour bloodbath

A crazed old lady in a green apron yelled at me when I walked in.

"What do you want here?!" she screamed, waving her fat fingers.

"I'm looking for the cock fights. It says that they're supposed to be here," I said, pointing to the information in Bolshoi Gorod.

"It's at Pavilion 22!" she yelled. "Out and around the corner, outside of Pavilion 22! You'll see all the cocks out there! This is a greenhouse! There're no cock fights in here!"

She shooed me out the door, past the tomato and cucumber posters, and back into the expansive VDNKh park.

She was right. About 100 meters away, behind Pavilion 22, a couple dozen roosters were tied by their legs to small stakes or rocks, pecking at the sickly grass and crowing at each other, spaced just far enough apart to keep them from attacking each other. Just beyond them, I noticed small crowds gathered around two low red-and-green canvas rings. The rings looked more like baby pools from afar; up close, it was more like a blood bath.

It doesn't take much to get two roosters to fight. Just put them in a small enclosed space, place your bets, and let instinct take care of the rest.

The first ring was where the real gore was, attracting the crowd of about a dozen onlookers and cock owners. The fighting roosters' heads were raw, covered in blood. This fight had been going on for awhile. The rooster that was winning loomed over its dying opponent, panting with its beak open, its long rubbery neck contracting with every breath like a wide straw being sucked. The other cock couldn't keep its head up. Its neck feathers had been picked almost clean, the neck muscles unable to function. Every time it strained to lift its head to peck its opponent, the stronger cock would tear madly at its eye, its damaged comb, and a small hole it was boring into the side of its head; they'd wildly flap their wings, then tire and stop. The weaker cock's head slowly dropped to the ground.

The inside of the canvas ring was spattered with blood, bits of comb flesh and eyeball tissue. Nevertheless, the crowd of a dozen or so villagers -- who between them had a dozen or so teeth -- leaned down over the ring as close to the rim as possible to get a good look. On one end sat a respectable, balding man wearing reading glasses and a checkered blazer. This was Yuri Grishakov, the "president" of the "National League of Fighting Birds". He observed the fight with the pedantic frown of a chinovnik or a fire inspector. Not far from him, a man held his 4-year-old daughter right up to the rim to get a good look. She seemed only mildly interested. An American child would be screaming bloody murder -- this one was already bored.
Man holds his daughter up over the rim of the cock fight ring, while another couple looks on.

Man holds his daughter up over the rim of the cock fight ring, while another couple looks on.

Grishakov was taking a heaping of abuse from the bed-headed crowd, who roamed around the cockfighting rings and the rooster-infested field behind them in rynok track suits, employing the word "blya" like an article of speech. They were impatient. The fight had been going on for too long.

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