Understanding the Sabong Culture in the Philippines

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Sabong is a favorite activity among locals and tourists in the Philippines due to its intense rivalry, vivid spectacle, and eternal cultural importance. Sabong is a spectacular show that captures the Filipino spirit and passion in rural and urban settings. In this write-up, we explore the rich history and exciting current of Sabong in the Philippines and learn why this timeless tradition attracts and inspires people worldwide.

Sabong – A Bloodsport

The sport is a test of the roosters’ strength and fighting skills and a symbol of social status and entertainment for the spectators. Sabong remains a beloved tradition in the Philippines and continues to attract a loyal following.

Different Types of Sabong Matches and Formats

Several types of Sabong matches and formats are commonly practiced in the Philippines.

Derbies: These are tournaments where several roosters from different breeders or owners are pitted against each other in elimination rounds until a champion is declared.

Hackfights: Roosters are matched according to their weight and fighting style in this format. The fights usually occur in a square pit with specific rules on how the roosters can fight.

Walk-ins are unscheduled fights where owners bring their roosters to a Sabong arena and challenge other owners to a match. The fight is usually agreed upon on the spot and can be intense.

Gaff fights: This is a more extreme form of Sabong where a small blade called a “gaff” is attached to the rooster’s leg to increase the chances of inflicting fatal wounds on the opponent.

Bulang-Bulangan: This is a form of Sabong where the roosters are not killed in the ring but are judged based on their fighting ability and style. A panel of judges determines the winning rooster.

2-cock Derby: This is a variation where each participant can enter two roosters instead of just one.

3-cock Derby: Similar to the 2-cock derby, but with three roosters per participant.

Elimination: This is a format where participants go through a series of rounds, with only the winners advancing to the next round until a champion is declared.

Solo Bullstag: This is a one-on-one match between two roosters with metal spurs attached to their legs.

Role of the Roosters in Sabong and the Breeding Process

In Sabong, roosters play a crucial role as the main combatants in the matches. These birds are bred and trained specifically for their fighting ability and are carefully selected based on various criteria, such as their size, weight, agility, and temperament.

The gamefowl breeding process for Sabong roosters typically involves selecting birds with desirable traits and then carefully mating them to produce offspring with the desired characteristics. The breeding process can take several years and involves careful monitoring and evaluation of the offspring to ensure that the desired traits are passed down to future generations.

Once the roosters are selected and bred, they are trained for several months to improve their fighting skills and condition their bodies for the rigors of the matches. This involves a strict diet, exercise regimen, and sparring sessions to hone their fighting skills and increase their stamina.


Sabong Culture: From Traditional and Modern to Online Sabong

Traditional Sabong, or “sabong de pueblo,” was typically a local affair, with villagers gathering to watch and bet on matches between their roosters. The games were often held in makeshift arenas and were characterized by a festive and informal atmosphere.

As Sabong grew in popularity, the matches became more organized and formalized, with breeders and owners competing against each other in regional and national derbies. These events were often accompanied by elaborate pageantry, with parades, music, and colorful costumes adding to the excitement.

Modern Sabong is a highly regulated industry with strict rules and guidelines governing roosters’ breeding, training, and handling. The matches are held in licensed arenas and are closely monitored by government officials to ensure compliance with animal welfare laws.

The Cultural Significance of Sabong in the Philippines

For many Filipinos, Sabong is more than just a sport – it is a social and cultural event that brings people together and celebrates the bonds of community and camaraderie. 

Social and cultural event: Sabong brings people together and celebrates the bonds of community and camaraderie.

Symbol of Filipino values and identity: Sabong is seen as a reflection of Filipino values such as resilience, courage, and fighting spirit, and it is revered for its aggressive nature.

Rural and agricultural tradition: Sabong reflects the country’s deep connection to the land and its natural resources and is an important source of income and livelihood for many in rural areas.

Symbol of strength and masculinity: Roosters are often seen as symbols of strength, courage, and masculinity and are revered for their fighting abilities.

Connection to Filipino cultural heritage: Sabong is an enduring and cherished part of Filipino cultural heritage and has been passed down through generations of Filipinos.

Festive atmosphere: Sabong matches often involve elaborate pageantry, with parades, music, and colorful costumes adding to the positive atmosphere.

Respected sport: Despite the controversies surrounding Sabong, it is still respected as a sport and has produced many famous and celebrated champions over the years.

History and tradition: Sabong has a long and storied history in the Philippines, dating back to pre-colonial times. Over the centuries, it has evolved and changed but has remained a beloved tradition for Filipinos.

Passion and pride: Many Filipinos are passionate about Sabong and pride themselves in their roosters and abilities. The matches are often fiercely competitive, and winning a Sabong match is a source of great pride and honor.

Economic impact: Sabong is an important industry in the Philippines, with millions of dollars in yearly revenue. The breeding and training of roosters is a skilled and labor-intensive process and provides employment opportunities for many Filipinos.

Regional and national pride: Sabong matches often involve regional or national derbies, in which breeders and owners from different parts of the country compete against each other. These events are often highly anticipated and source regional or national pride.

Sense of community: Sabong is often seen as a way of fostering a sense of community and belonging among Filipinos, with people from different backgrounds and social classes coming together to watch and participate in the matches.

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Traditional Practices and Rituals Associated with Sabong

Sabong is not just a sport but a cultural tradition in the Philippines, and as such, it is often accompanied by various traditional practices and rituals. 

Pagpapakal: This is the process of training and conditioning the roosters for the matches. It involves strict dietary and exercise regimens, as well as the use of various supplements and medications.

Pamasak: This is introducing two roosters to each other for the first time. This is done in a controlled environment to prevent injuries and allow the roosters to get used to each other’s presence before the match.

Pagpapakalbo: This is removing the feathers from the roosters’ heads and necks before the match. This is done to prevent the birds from overheating during the game and improve spectators’ visibility.

Blessing of the roosters: In some regions, roosters are blessed by a local priest or spiritual leader before the match to ensure their success and protection during the game.

Pagbabantay: This is the act of watching over the roosters during their resting period before the match. The caretaker will ensure the roosters are comfortable and well-fed, and watch for any signs of illness or injury.

Laban: This is the match itself, accompanied by music and cheering from the spectators.

Pagsaludo: This is paying respect to the winning rooster after the match. This involves holding the bird up high and saluting it, and may also include presenting it with a special prize or trophy.

Gaffing and sparring: These are the processes of attaching a metal spike or blade, called a gaff, to the rooster’s leg, and allowing them to spar or fight with each other. This practice is controversial and illegal in some countries but is still a common part of traditional Sabong matches in the Philippines.

Role of the gamemaster: The gamemaster is the person in charge of overseeing the match and ensuring that it is conducted fairly and safely. They may also be responsible for making decisions regarding the game’s outcome, such as whether to call a draw or award a victory to one of the roosters.

Significance of the colors: Roosters are often bred and trained based on their color, which is believed to have symbolic meaning. For example, a black rooster may symbolize strength and power, while a white rooster may represent purity and innocence.

Traditional dress: Many participants and spectators of Sabong matches wear conventional Filipino clothing, such as the barong tagalog or the terno. 

Socializing and networking: Sabong matches are often seen as an opportunity to socialize and network with others in the community. Many attendees will bring food and drink to share with others.

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Importance of Superstitions and Beliefs in Sabong

Superstitions and beliefs play a significant role in the culture of Sabong in the Philippines. 

Luck: Many Sabong enthusiasts believe luck is crucial to the match’s outcome. They may perform certain rituals or carry lucky charms to increase their chances of winning.

Protection: Some participants and spectators believe certain amulets or talismans can protect them from harm or bad luck during the match.

Respect for the birds: In many cases, superstitions and beliefs are rooted in a deep respect for the roosters and a desire to protect them. For example, it is believed that the presence of a woman during a match can bring bad luck, and some people will avoid getting women to the game to protect the birds from harm.

Tradition: Superstitions and beliefs are an important part of the cultural tradition of Sabong and are often passed down from generation to generation. They help to preserve the rich history and cultural significance of the sport.

Unity: Superstitions and beliefs can also help create unity among Sabong enthusiasts, as they share a common set of beliefs and values. This can contribute to a strong sense of community and shared identity.

Selection of roosters: The process of selecting roosters for a match often involves superstitions and beliefs. For example, some breeders may only choose roosters hatched on certain days of the week or under specific astrological signs.

Use of herbs and medicines: Some Sabong enthusiasts believe in the power of certain herbs and medicines to enhance the performance of their roosters or protect them from harm. For example, some may use garlic or other herbs to ward off evil spirits or diseases.

Avoiding certain foods: Some participants and spectators of Sabong matches may avoid eating certain foods or engaging in certain behaviors on the day of the game, as they believe it could bring bad luck or harm to the roosters.

Respecting the spirits: In some communities, it is believed that souls or deities have a role in the outcome of Sabong matches. Participants and spectators may perform rituals or make offerings to these spirits to ensure a favorable outcome.

Pre-match rituals: Before the match begins, participants may perform certain rituals or practices to ensure good luck or protect themselves and their roosters from harm. For example, they may make offerings to ancestors or recite prayers.


Sabong is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Philippines, with a rich history and significance that goes back centuries. From traditional Sabong practices to modern variations, the sport continues to captivate and inspire people from all walks of life.