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BLOOD SPORT

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Before pitting his rooster again, Fontana cleans the bird's beak off in his mouth. Cockers are often accused of sucking the blood out of a wounded bird's lungs this way, but most say they do it only to clear debris from his beak, to help him stay warm and resist shock. When the judge gives the command to release the birds again, Fontana's rooster barely moves.

The cheering of the crowd has died down by now, and some spectators are even settling up their bets. The outcome of the match is a foregone conclusion, and doesn't take long to come. The black pounces on Fontana's bird, finally killing him with another slash to his back.

Cockers often say that it's always too early to count a bird out. Tales of roosters with punctured lungs and poked-out eyes--who can do nothing but lay on the ground and peck helplessly--coming back to win the match are common. It is this trait, cockers say, this courage and fortitude, that so attaches them to their sport. They love to root for the underdog, and nothing makes them happier than seeing an outmatched or wounded bird, running on nothing but determination, come back and win.

Fontana holds his dead bird by the feet, and it swings back and forth at his side as Fontana shakes hands with his opponent and walks out of the pit. The other bird is wounded and bleeding, too. He will need a visit to the chicken doctor before going home tonight.

Fontana is on his way back to the cockhouse, where he will remove the knives from the bird's legs before tossing him into a pile with the other dead roosters from tonight's tourney. There will probably be 70 or 80 of them. Sometime tomorrow, someone will take the birds away and bury them in the desert.

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Dave Plank