Although illegal in the United States and many other parts of the world, cockfighting was once a popular pastime – and in some countries, it remains so to this day.
As a result, many breeds exist that are valued not for their egg-laying abilities or their suitability for being raised as meat birds but rather for their abilities in the cockfighting pit – and to help you understand more about these varieties, here we list 12 fighting chicken breeds.
An introduction to cockfighting
Before we talk about fighting chicken breeds, let’s give ourselves a brief overview of the sport of cockfighting.
It is thought that when the chicken was first domesticated in Southeast Asia around 8,000 years ago, one of the main uses for the bird was pitting the males against each other in fights.
This activity spread around the world and became popular in many places as far afield as India, Mexico, South America, the UK, parts of continental Europe and the US.
Birds for fighting were selectively bred for qualities such as their stamina, strength, speed, agility and aggressiveness, and there are several variations on how a cockfight can be held.
In some versions, two birds are placed together in a so-called cockpit to fight it out until one bird either gives up or is killed.
In other versions, the birds are equipped with razor-sharp metal spurs that are designed to kill the other bird as quickly as possible. This type of fight may be over in a matter of seconds.
Nowadays, cockfighting is banned in many countries around the world, although in some places it remains legal. In other areas, it may be mostly illegal with certain exceptions due to the cultural or even religious importance of the practice.
As a result, nowadays, many game birds – as fighting breeds are known – are bred solely for show and are never intended to be used in fights.
However, in areas where cockfighting is legal – or is practiced despite being illegal – birds are still selectively bred for their fighting ability and are destined to see action in real fights.
Now let’s look at some of the most important breeds.
Best Fighting Chicken Breeds
1. American game
These birds are typically large, solidly built and muscular – and are highly aggressive. In a fight between two American game roosters, if they are not separated, they will often fight to the death – and even the hens of this breed are known to be particularly aggressive.
The standard-sized version of this breed is not officially recognized by the American Poultry Association, the Entente Européenne of the Poultry Club of Great Britain.
However, the Bantam version is recognized by the American Poultry Association, with ten color varieties being accepted.
“Shamo” refers to a type of Japanese gamefowl that can be divided into seven distinct breeds.
It is thought shamo are descended from Malay chickens that were brought to Japan from Thailand in the early part of the seventeenth century – the name shamo is derived from “Siam”, the old word for Thailand.
The roosters usually weigh around 6.5-11lbs and have a distinctive upright posture. They are well-muscled and show high levels of aggressivity towards other chickens, which can make them problematic to keep with other birds.
Among the most famous breeds of fighting cocks, the Asil – sometimes also spelled Aseel – originated in Pakistan and India.
Weighing an average of around 4.5-6.5lbs, Asils are not a great choice for meat, and since they only provide only around 70 eggs a year, they are not a good laying breed either.
However, their prowess in the cockpit has long been admired, and they are particularly known for their strength and endurance.
At the same time, they are one of the slower breeds of fighting cock, so they are often crossed with other breeds to produce faster fighters that retain the renowned strength of the Asil.
Sweaters are a breed that is most closely associated with cockfighting in Mexico and the Philippines. They can usually be distinguished by their red breasts, yellow legs and splendid long tail feathers.
They are a small breed that uses speed to its advantage. They were once thought of as a breed that lacked strength and stamina, but the breed has been improved through selective crossing, and nowadays, they no longer suffer from these disadvantages.
In combat, this breed will use a range of attacks and will usually beat its opponent into submission through its relentless style of fighting.
5. Spanish gamefowl
Known in Spain as the combatiente español, the Spanish gamefowl is descended from ancient stock and ranks among the best fighting breeds from Europe.
It is most closely associated with the Andalusia region, where cockfighting has more cultural and historic significance than in other parts of the country – Andalusia is now one of only two regions in Spain where cockfighting remains legal, the other being the Canary Islands.
Nowadays, pure Spanish gamefowl are rare. They are an especially attractive breed that is hardy and resistant to disease. They are a relatively small fighting breed, so when used for combat, they are rarely pitted against larger breeds.
However, they are fierce in battle and are known for their bravery. They are not prodigious layers, but the hens are good mothers and can be useful if you are trying to raise chicks.
6. Malay gamefowl
Another of the most ancient fighting breeds, the Malay gamefowl is a powerful bird that can be easily spotted by its height – it is considered the tallest of all chicken breeds.
They originated in India, Indonesia and the Malay peninsula but are now mostly bred in Britain, the US and Australia.
Known for their speed and agility in battle, they are fearsome fighters that seldom back down and will often continue attacking until their opponent has been killed.
Malay gamefowl have been around for perhaps as long as 3,000 years. They were selectively bred specifically for fighting and are not particularly suitable either as meat birds or for egg production – although in recent decades, they have been bred to lay more eggs.
They can be kept for show or simply as pets, but they are temperamental birds. Since they originated in countries with hot climates, they are also better suited to warmer conditions, and if kept in colder areas, they might not survive the winter.
A large, proud-looking breed of fighting cock with a striking plumage, the Kelso is known as an intelligent bird. It specializes in swift ground attacks where it darts in and inflicts damage on its opponent without taking any itself – although it is considered much weaker in the air.
The breed is named after Walter A. Kelso, an American breeder of fighting birds who owned the Oleander Gamefarm. They can often be distinguished by their yellow or orange head and neck feathers and their white or yellow legs – although other colors also exist.
Although bred specifically for fighting, their attractive appearance and beautiful colors also make them a popular option for showing in places where cockfighting is banned.
8. Peruvian gamefowl
The origins of this breed date back to the beginning of the 20th century in Peru, but it took around a further 70 years of selective breeding to create the feared and formidable fighting cock known as the Peruvian gamefowl.
The roosters usually weigh around 7.5-11lbs but they are surprisingly quick and agile for their imposing size. They are famous for their willingness to fight, but they also tend to tire quickly if the fight continues for too long.
As well as in their native Peru, they are now popular in the Philippines and other countries where cockfighting is still permitted or tolerated. Due to their exceptional combat abilities, they are among the most expensive fighting breeds.
However, they are also sometimes kept as birds for showing due to their striking appearance.
9. Hatch, hatch twist
The hatch is an American breed of fighting cock that is highly sought-after due to its strength, speed, stamina and willingness to keep on fighting rather than seeking to run away. In a fight, they are especially good on the ground.
Distinguishing features of this breed include their yellow-green featherless legs and their pea comb.
A closely related breed is the hatch twist, another fast yet powerful fighter that is always ready for a confrontation and will rarely back down in a fight.
They are larger than the original hatch breed – and with a plumage that often includes white or yellow feathers, they are often considered more attractive too.
Originating on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, this breed was first imported to the US in the mid-19th century as a fighting bird.
Nowadays they are mainly kept for showing, largely due to their striking lustrous dark plumage.
They usually have a dark head and dark, featherless legs and are also covered with dark feathers that display a noticeable green tinge, making them quite easy to tell apart from most other breeds.
They are an aggressive type of chicken and will often attack other breeds. In a fight, they make use of their flying abilities both to evade attacks and to launch attacks of their own.
They are armed with two or sometimes even three spurs on their legs and are a prized cockfighting breed. However, the males rarely reach a weight of 6.5lbs so they struggle when facing some of the larger cockfighting breeds.
11. Old English game
The name of his breed tells you a lot of what you need to know about this type of chicken – it is a venerable fighting breed from England that has been around for many years.
Originally bred for sport, these birds are aggressive and territorial. With curved claws, large beaks and long necks, they are well armed for combat – and their puffed-out chest makes them seem as though they are ready for confrontation at any time, which isn’t far from the truth.
With cocks weighing around 2.5-4.5lbs, they won’t fare well against larger, more powerful breeds. However, since cockfighting has long been illegal in the UK, they are now mostly kept as show birds – something they are well suited to due to their impressive appearance.
12. Modern game
Another English breed, the modern game was created by crossing old English game chickens with Malay birds to produce especially attractive fighting-style birds.
This was done when the first steps were being taken to ban cockfighting in Britain from around the mid-19th century. As a result, cockfighting enthusiasts took to breeding birds for show rather than for the fighting pit.
This means that while this breed has the appearance and some of the characteristics of genuine fighting birds, it is a breed that has not often been used for combat.
They are docile around humans, and although they are not a good choice for either eggs or meat, they are a suitable breed to keep simply as a pet.
Some magnificent chicken varieties bred for fighting
Whatever your views on cockfighting as a sport, it is undeniable that the pastime has given us some wonderful breeds that are beautiful to look at and are particularly suitable for showing due to their striking, proud appearances.
In the United States, unless used for illegal cockfighting, people who keep or breed fighting chickens are likely to do so for showing their birds. And with the info we have given you in this post, now you know a bit more about some of the breeds that are most often kept.