Quezon City, Philippines In the center ring where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier pummeled each other during the "Thrilla in Manila" more than three decades ago, another world-championship blood fest was in full swing.
The deftest moves and deepest cuts drew shouts of "Fight back!" and "Peck! Peck!" from spectators hanging on every move. Most had fists of cash wagered on the outcome.
One after another, the fights raged into the night. Several were over in seconds. None lasted longer than 10 minutes. Most losers ended up dead on the ring's dirt floor. Many winners were barely breathing as their handlers carried them off.
Welcome to the 2007 World Slasher Cup II, where the really lethal roosters are separated from the mere chickens.
Billed as the world's biggest cockfighting event, the derby's $55,500 purse and prestigious title in May drew foreign entries from Japan, Germany and several U.S. states, including Alabama, California, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
For three nights, hundreds of game fowl competing on eight-cock teams with names such as "God of War," "Air Assault," "Deep Impact" and "Your Future" clashed in bouts at Araneta Coliseum.
In flapping blurs of feathers, grit and blood, the roosters pecked and gashed each other with 3-inch razors strapped to their legs.
It is big-ticket entertainment, a high-stakes slaughter that animal-rights activists call barbaric. But in the raucous crowd of several thousand, cockers wondered what was wrong with fighting chickens when humans beating each other senseless in boxing rings were worthy of million-dollar purses and Olympic medals.
Millionaire developer Jorge Araneta, the coliseum's owner and a dean of Philippine cockfighting, was ringside at the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975 and had a team of cocks in this year's World Slasher Cup.
"This is a better proxy than human beings beating each other's brains out," Araneta said, after one of his birds dispatched its opponent in a few minutes.
Cockfighting is so central to Philippine culture that Rolando Blanco, vice president of the country's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has little hope of persuading the government to stop it.
"How can we fight cockfighting when our lawmakers are cock fighters and breeders?" he asked.
Supporters of a ban acknowledge that fighting cocks' killer instinct is encoded in their genes, but argue that nature is more forgiving than cockfight organizers, who arm the roosters with razors and make sure they can't escape the ring. But chickens don't win much sympathy in the Philippines.
With six national TV shows devoted to the sport, Filipinos can enjoy the carnage from their homes almost every night of the week.
The Philippine economy benefits by more than $1 billion a year from cockfight betting, breeding farms and the business of selling feed and drugs, including steroids, that bulk up the birds for two years before their fighting instinct kicks in, Berbano estimated.
Opponents of the sport in the U.S. have kept up their campaign for a complete ban for more than a century, and now Louisiana is the last legal bastion of American cockfighting.
Johnnie Phillips of Atlanta was one of at least 17 Americans with roosters in the competition for this year's Slasher Cup. The retired AT&T worker learned cockfighting from his father while growing up on a farm in Alabama.
Phillips, 61, says he doesn't understand why governments would ban fighting cocks from doing what comes naturally, when, he says, they aren't much good for anything else - especially eating.