Jonny Seymour’s Sabong captures the Philippines’ billion dollar cockfighting industry, in which cockerels are bred and trained to fight to the death in 2,500 dedicated stadiums across the country and illegally on the streets.
TRIP caught up with Seymour to find out more about his photographs and this controversial sport.
TRIP: What took you to the Philippines and how did you end up shooting this story?
Jonny Seymour: The Philippines initially appealed to me as an interesting location to shoot because of the amount of controversial events and traditions that are celebrated throughout the year, the contrast of this controversy with the peaceful and pure landscapes really intrigued me.
TRIP: Could you tell us a bit more about the sport and how the cockerels are bred and trained?
Jonny Seymour: The sport is held in very high regard by the locals. It is a very serious business and the level of attention and care that is put into the training, breeding and competitions really reflects the passion the country has for the sport. The cockerels have a very privileged lifestyle compared to chickens that are bred for meat, they exercise daily and have fully nutritious diets. The trainers put everything they have into training their cockerels, which includes hours of controlled sparring, which is filmed and reviewed in order to carefully select which cockerels to put forward for each fight.
TRIP: Where do the fights take place? What type of people would be in attendance?
Jonny Seymour: The fights take place in various stadiums across major cities but also illegally on the streets. The arena audience is usually made up of high-class individuals due to high entrance fees and minimum betting limits. However, the street fights are watched by a low-class audience who are willing to risk a six month prison sentence because they can't afford the arena entrance fees.
TRIP: How is the sport judged? Do the cockerels fight to the death?
Jonny Seymour: The cockerels wear knives on their feet which are designed to brutally kill their opponents. It is a fight to the death.
TRIP: What's the prize?
Jonny Seymour: The winner takes prize money and the dead cock to feed to his family. Prize money in the arena can be as much as 250,000 pesos, which converts to roughly £3750.