A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), or more accurately gamecocks, held in a ring called a cockpit. The first documented use of the word gamecock, denoting use of the cock as to a “game”, a sport, pastime or entertainment, was recorded in 1646, 1 after the term “cock of the game” used by George Wilson, in the earliest known book on the sport of cockfighting in The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting in 1607.
The combatants, referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to meet show standards of the American Gamefowl Society and the Old English Game Club and to prevent freezing in colder climates (the standard emerged from the older practice of severing the comb, wattles, and earlobes of the bird in order to remove anatomical vulnerabilities, similar to the practice of docking a dog's tail and ears).
Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. Cocks are given the best of care until near the age of two years old. They are conditioned, much like professional athletes prior to events or shows. Wagers are often made on the outcome of the match
Cockfighting is considered a blood sport by animal welfare and animal rights activists2 and others, due in some part to the physical trauma the cocks inflict on each other. While not all fights are to the death, the cocks may endure significant physical trauma. In many other areas around the world, cockfighting is still practiced as a mainstream event; in some countries it is regulated by law, or forbidden outright. Advocates of the "age old sport"34 often list cultural and religious relevance as reasons for perpetuation of cockfighting as a sport.5
Two owners place their gamecock in the cockpit. The cocks fight until ultimately one of them dies or is critically injured. Historically, this was in a cockpit, a term which was also used in the 16th century to mean a place of entertainment or frenzied activity. William Shakespeare used the term in Henry V to specifically mean the area around the stage of a theatre.6 In Tudor times, the Palace of Westminster had a permanent cockpit, called the Cockpit-in-Court.
The sport was popular in ancient times in India, China, Persia, and other Eastern countries and was introduced into Ancient Greece in the time of Themistocles (c. 524–460 BC). For a long time the Romans affected to despise this "Greek diversion", but they ended up adopting it so enthusiastically that the agricultural writer Columella (1st century AD) complained that its devotees often spent their whole patrimony in betting at the side of the pit.
The significance of the original name of Mohenjo-daro inferring that the city was "the city of the cock" takes on great significance if taking into account that it has been claimed that the chicken was domesticated in southern China in 6000 BC.1011 However, according to a recent study,12 "it is not known whether these birds made much contribution to the modern domestic fowl. Chickens from the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (2500-2100 BC) may have been the main source of diffusion throughout the world." "Within the Indus Valley, indications are that chickens were used for sport and not for food (Zeuner 1963)"13 and that by 1000 BC they had assumed "religious significance".13
Some additional insight into the pre-history of European and American secular cockfighting may be taken from the The London Encyclopaedia:
At first cockfighting was partly a religious and partly a political institution at Athens; and was continued for improving the seeds of valor in the minds of their youth, but was afterwards perverted both there and in the other parts of Greece to a common pastime, without any political or religious intention.14
The image of a fighting rooster has been found the 6th century BC seal of Jaazaniah, discovered during the excavation of the biblical city of Mizpah in Benjamin, near Jerusalem.15 It is one of the earliest depictions of a fighting rooster ever recovered.1516 This depiction is consistent with the remains of these birds found at other Israelite Iron Age sites, when the rooster was used as a fighting bird; they are also pictured on other seals from the period as a symbol of ferocity, such as on the one engraved on a late-7th-century BC red jasper seal inscribed "Jehoahaz, son of the king",1718 which likely belonged to Jehoahaz of Judah "while he was still a prince during his father's life."19
In some regional variations, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird's natural spur has been partially removed. A cockspur is a bracelet (often made of leather) with a curved, sharp spike which is attached to the leg of the bird. The spikes typically range in length from "short spurs" of just over an inch to "long spurs" almost two and a half inches long. In the highest levels of 17th century English cockfighting, the spikes were made of silver. Ironically, the sharp spurs have been known to injure or even kill the bird handlers.2021 In the naked heel variation, the bird's natural spurs are left intact and sharpened: fighting is done without gaffs or taping, particularly in India (especially in Tamil Nadu). There it is mostly fought naked heel and either three rounds of twenty minutes with a gap of again twenty minutes or four rounds of fifteen minutes each and a gap of fifteen minutes between them.22
Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Canary Islands, Saipan, and Guam have arenas with seats or bleachers for spectators surrounding the ring. In many countries, the spectacle of cockfighting is as popular as baseball and American football are in the United States.clarification needed Among the competitors who raise fighting cocks, there is great pride in the prowess of their birds and in winning a championship.
Cockfight is a popular activity in Cuba. It is a seasonal sport, held only during the freshest months of the year (November to April). Cocks are not ready to fight and their plumage is molting during the warmest months (May to October).
In Cuba the tradition is to fix detachable natural (non-artificial) spurs to both legs of the fighting cocks. Before fixing the detachable spurs, the natural spurs should be trimmed, leaving a trunk not longer than 3 millimeters. The final length of the detached spurs ranks from 22 to 25 millimeters according to the relevance of the match.
Cockfights are held in a round arena commonly called valla, surrounded by a small fence around which the spectators are accommodated.
Comb and wattles should be previously trimmed but feathers should not be necessarily groomed as well, although tradition imposes an extensive feather trimming. The feathers of the chest, hackle and thighs are generally shorn completely off. The reasons for this vary among individual game fowl enthusiasts (see also Gamecock).
Cocks should have a weight within the rank of 50-69 Castilian ounces (2300-3180 grams) to be admitted. One Castilian pound of 16 ounces is equivalent to 460,0093 grams.
The combatants are strictly paired up to fight according to their body weight. The allowed difference in weight between the contenders ranks from half to one ounce (14-29 grams) according to the body weight.
Fights are limited to a single round of 30 minutes, but statistics show that more than 50% of the fights end within the first five minutes.
The persons proved to be betting are severely punished with a temporary or definite expulsion from the tournaments and the prohibition to participate in further meetings.23
It is believed that cockfighting in Mexico originated from the Philippines during height of Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. Filipino sailors brought with them their culture such as the drinking of tuba and cockfighting. In Aguascalientes, a state capital, one of the city's principal concert halls is the cockfighting arena, the palenque. Palenques are very common throughout the country, with almost every major city having one, and are closely related to Mexican traditional music performers, such as Vicente Fernández, and also being (as mentioned below) the stage for pop artists as well. During the San Marcos Fair, well known throughout Mexico, cockfights alternate with important concerts, where the singers or dancers perform from the cockpit. Many popular singers have performed there, e.g. Latin Grammy winners Alejandro Fernández and Alejandra Guzmán.citation needed.
In Peru, cockfighting is allowed and it takes place in coliseums with round sand fields. Only a judge and two managers each carrying a cock are allowed in the field. Judges use tables to facilitate the refereeing of fights.
Cockfighting championships of Peru are of two kinds, Beak and Spur. The Peruvian Razor Rooster ('Gallo Navajero Peruano') features in Spur fights. In Spur fights the weight and size of the rooster varies. There are free weight championships as well.
The most important cockfighting championships take place in the Lima Region at the Coliseums Sandia, Rosedal, Abraham Wong, The Peruvian Cockfighting Circle's Coliseum and The Valentino, of the Rooster Breeders' Association of Peru.24
Cockfighting, known in Brazil as rinha de galos ("baiting the rooster"), was banned in 1934 with the help of President Getúlio Vargas through Brazil's 1934 constitution, passed on 16 July. Based on the recognition of animals in the Constitution, a Brazilian Supreme Court ruling resulted in the ban of animal related activities that involve claimed "animal suffering such as cock fighting, and a tradition practiced in southern Brazil, known as “Farra do Boi” (the Oxen Festival)",25 stating that "animals also have the right to legal protection against mistreatment and suffering".26
Cockfighting is common throughout all of Southeast Asia, where it is implicated in spreading bird flu.27 Like Islam, Christianity might shun the belief in spirits, but in Southeast Asia, as in Mexico, indigenous interpretations of the veneration of saints and passion plays dominate. In the nominally Christian northern Philippines, respect is accorded the veneration of traditional anito (spirits), shamans number in the thousands and Catholic priests are powerless to stop cockfighting, a popular form of fertility worship among almost all Southeast Asians.28 Also in rural northern Thailand a religious ceremony honoring ancestral spirits takes place known as "faun phii", spirit dance or ghost dance, and includes offerings for ancestors with spirit mediums sword fighting, spirit possessed dancing, and "spirit mediums cock fighting",29 in a spiritual cockfight.
Cockfighting is a very old tradition in Balinese Hinduism, the Batur Bang Inscriptions I (from the year 933) and the Batuan Inscription (dated 944 on the Balinese Caka calendar) disclose that the tabuh rah ritual has existed for centuries.30 In Bali, cockfights, known as tajen, are practiced in an ancient religious purification ritual to expel evil spirits.31 This ritual, a form of animal sacrifice, is called tabuh rah ("pouring blood").32 The purpose of tabuh rah is to provide an offering (the blood of the losing chicken) to the evil spirits. Cockfighting is a religious obligation at every Balinese temple festival or religious ceremony.33 Cockfights without a religious purpose are considered gambling in Indonesia. Women are generally not involved in the tabuh rah process.
All forms of gambling, including the gambling within secular cockfighting, were made illegal in 1981 by the Indonesian government, while the religious aspects of cockfighting within Balinese Hinduism remain protected.
Cockfighting is similar to boxing for the younger roosters as they battle for a victory with their blunt natural spurs or lack of and after maturity they battle with their mature natural spurs which may have become pointed. Despite fighting cocks allowed to be used in cockfighting, "the state has designated them a protected species".34
Cockfighting (Vetrukkaal seval porr in Tamil which means "naked heel cock fight") (Kodi Pandem in Telugu) (Kori katta in Tulu) is a favourite sport of people living in the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Tulu Nadu region of Karnataka, and the state of Tamil nadu India. Three- or four-inch blades (Bal in Tulu) are attached to the cocks' legs. Knockout fights to the death are widely practised in Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, the winner is decided after three or four rounds. People watch with intense interest surrounding the cocks. The sport has gradually become a gambling sport.
In Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Tanjore, Trichy and Salem Districts, only naked heel sport is performed. In Erode, Thiruppur, Karur and Coimbatore districts only bloody blade fights are conducted. During festival seasons, this is the major game for men. Women normally don't participate. There are many rare breeds preserved by these cock fighters.citation needed
Cockfighting in Tamil Nadu is mentioned in ancient literature like Manu Needhi Sastiram, Kattu Seval Sastiram, and other sangam-age literature, 2,000 years old. It is referred to as the favourite pastime for Maravars or the warriors of Tamil Country. It is acknowledged as one of the 64 "arts" widely spoken by the scholars and mastered by the ancestors/scholars of this part of the world. In earlier days they were fighting with the jungle fowl and its variants later, due to the naval expeditions to Java and Malay by the Pandian Rulers the local poultry of that land might have found its way to Tamil Nadu and a new strain/breed started its development in here which later spread to many places such as India. The newer breeds which are known now are The "Reja" (which is a short Variety), "Sonatol", "Calcutta Asil", "Madras Asil", "Kalkatiya" (Also known as "Kadhar" synonymous to Black Asils), The Reds (Also known locally as "Yakuth"), The Yellow Variants (Also known as The "Peela" Asil), The Grey is known locally as "Java" and its variants reddish grey as "Dummer". Also they have a "henny" variety cock known locally as "Pettai Madhiri" the literal meaning is "it looks like a hen", though this variety is said to have come from "Singala Island", or Sri Lanka.In tamilnadu instead of rings line is drawn and if the cock comes out of the line or falls or dies it means the cock has lost there are several Tamil films based on cock.the most rare and aggressive variety is called galva,such lineage possess a mustache like hair found grown beneath its lower beak.spot fight and agreement fights are usually conducted in the district of tamilnadu.agreement fights are conducted by showing the roosters 21 days advance by both the parties and a date is fixed agreeing upon terms.21 days is fixed because a hen takes 21 days to hatch its eggs.in these 21days preparation procedures such as medication and stamina boosters are given orally by experts, exercise and swimming is given at regular intervals,the nail or mullu is sharpened one day before the actual day of fight.a man named gowriaar is the person who poularised the game in tamilnadu and southern kerala,preparation and training experts keep their technique secret.coimbatore arumugan is one of the best traditional trainer and cockfighting preparation expert at present in tamilnadu and palakkad kunjan in southern kerala.
The cockfight, or more accurately expressed the secular cockfight, is an intense sport, recreation, or pastime to some, while to others, the cockfight remains an ancient religious ritual, a sacred ceremony(i.e. a religious and spiritual cockfight) associated with the ‘daivasthanams’ (temples) and held at the temples precincts.35 In January 2012 at India's 'Sun God' Festival the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) district committee, demanded that police not interfere in the cockfighting known as ‘kozhi kettu’ as it is a part of the temple rituals, while the police replied they would not interfere if the cockfight is held at a temple.36
Cockfighting is illegal but widespread in Iraq. The attendees come to gamble, even though gambling is considered un-Islamic, or just for the entertainment. A rooster can cost up to $8,000. The most-prized birds are called Harati, which means that they are of Turkish or Indian origin, and have muscular legs and necks.37
Cockfighting is a popular sport in Pakistan; however, "betting is illegal under the Prevention of Gambling Act 1977".38 Betting is illegal, but police often turn a blind eye towards it. In Sindh (one of 4 major provinces), people are fond of keeping fighting cock breed, known as Sindhi aseel in Pakistan. These cocks are noted being tall, heavy and good at fighting. Another popular breed is called Mianwali Aseel.
Sabong is a popular pastime in the Philippines where both illegal and legal cockfights occur. Legal cockfights are held in cockpits every week, whilst Illegal ones called tupada or tigbakay, are held in secluded cockpits where authorities cannot raid them. In both types, knives or gaffs are used. There are two kinds of knives used in Philippine cockfighting. The single edge blade (use in derbies) and double edged blades, lengths of knives also vary. All knives are attached on the left leg of the bird, but depending on agreement between owners, blades can be attached on the right or even on both legs. Sabong and illegal tupada, are judged by a referee called sentensyador or koyme, whose verdict is final and not subject to any appeal.39 Bets are usually taken by the kristo, so named because of his outstretched hands when calling out wagers from the audience and skillfully doing so purely from memory.
Contrary to popular belief, sabong was not introduced to the islands by the Spanish. Cockfighting was already flourishing in pre-colonial Philippines, as recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian diarist aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition. The Philippines instead derives the practise from the fact that it shares elements of Indian and other Southeast Asian cultures, where the jungle fowl (bankivoid) and Oriental type of chicken are endemic.
In the Mariana Islands in Micronesia, the sport of cockfighting has been considered a "cultural tradition" dating back to Spanish rule. Cockfighting became more popular with an influx of Filipino immigrants to the islands before and after World War II. Fights are held throughout the week at a government licensed pit in the village of Dededo, Guam, and in other villages during fiestas, where a patron saint of the village is celebrated. Imported roosters and hens from the U.S. mainland fetch heavy prices that can reach as much as a thousand dollars each.citation needed On the island of Saipan, north of Guam, legal cockfighting takes place several times a week in an arena called the Dome in the village of Gualo Rai.
In 2009, authorities caught and shut down an illegal songbird-fighting ring in Shelton, Connecticut that had been using Saffron Finches and canaries.40 The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals commented that such songbird fighting is extremely rare. The ancient Greeks used to practice quail fighting, using the common quail Coturnix coturnix.41 Also in south east Asia and ancient China were used to practice "quail fighting", but using the female buttonquails.
In many places, cockfights and other animal fights have been outlawed, often based on opposition to gambling or animal cruelty. In the United States cockfighting is against the law. It is not illegal to possess, raise, train, advertise, or trade cocks or accoutrements that could be used for cockfighting. However, actively participating in a cockfight in any manner is illegal: advertising, transporting participants or spectators, placing wagers, hosting an event, etc. It is common for law enforcement to confiscate property associated with any cockfighting activity.42
Cockfighting is banned in Spain except in the Canary Islands. Organisations such as the WWF/Adena and some political parties are trying to ban it there too.434445 The law allows it but tries to make it disappear "naturally" by blocking its expansion.46 Contrasting with the rest of the country, bullfighting is instead forbidden in the Canary Islands, since it is not considered traditional, unlike cockfighting.
Cockfighting is also legal in Andalusia in the cities and villages where it is considered traditional.
Cockfighting was banned outright in England and Wales and in the British Overseas Territories with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. Sixty years later, in 1895, cockfighting was also banned in Scotland, where it had been relatively common in the 18th century.47 The Museum of Welsh Life contains a reconstructed cockpit48 and a reference exists in 1774 to a cockpit at Stanecastle in Scotland.49
Holding cockfights is a crime in France, but there is an exemption under subparagraph 3 of article 521-1 of the French penal code for cockfights and bullfights in locales where an uninterrupted tradition exists for them. Thus, cockfighting is allowed in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, in Metropolitan France, where it takes place in a small number of towns including Raimbeaucourt, La Bistade51 and other villages around Lille.52 On Réunion Island, there are five officially authorized gallodromes (i.e. cockfighting arenas). The Nord-Pas-de-Calais has a dozen gallodromes.
There is currently a flow of British aficionados to cockfights that come from January to June to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais to participate in the cockfights. Some of them have been arrested at the British border for transporting cockerels or material for cockfights, what has led to the implementation of British cockerels farms and carers in Nord-Pas-de-Calais for the British who cannot transport and care for them in the United Kingdom.
Cockfighting was so common during the Cuban colonization by Spain, that there were arenas in every urban and rural town. The first official known document about cockfighting in Cuba dates from 1737. It is a royal decree asking, to the governor of the island, a report about the inconveniences that might cause cockfights "with the people from land and sea" and asking for information about rentals of the games. The Spaniard es:Miguel Tacón y Rosique, Lieutenant General and governor of the colony, banned cockfighting by a decree dated on October 20, 1835, limiting these spectacles only to holidays.
In 1844 a decree dictated by the Captain General of the island, es:Leopoldo O'Donnell, forbade to non-white people the attendance to these shows. During the second half of the 19th century many authorizations were conceded for building arenas, until General es:Juan Rius Rivera, then civilian governor in Havana, prohibited cockfighting by a decree of October 31. 1899 and later the Cuban governor, General Leonard Wood, dictated the military order No.165 prohibiting cockfights in the whole country since June 1, 1900.23
In the first half of the 20th century, legality of cockfights suffered several ups and downs.53
Up to beginnings of 1968 cockfights used to be held everywhere in the country, but with the purpose of stopping the bets, the arenas wer closed and the fights forbidden by the authorities. In 1980 authorities legallized cockfights again and a state business organization was created with the participation of the private breeders, grouped in territories. Every year the state organization announces several national tournaments from January to April, makes trade shows and sells fighting cocks to clients from other Caribbean countries.23
In the United States, cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The last state to implement a state law banning cockfighting was Louisiana; the Louisiana State Legislature voted to approve a Louisiana ban in June 2007.55 The ban took effect in August 2008.56 Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have made cockfighting a felony, and it is illegal in 40 states and the District of Columbia to be a spectator at cockfights. Animal welfare activists continue to lobby for a ban on the sport. Cockfighting remains legal in the United States territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, although in 2006, the Virgin Islands adopted a law banning modifications such as the use of artificial spurs.
The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, a federal law that made it a federal crime to transfer cockfighting implements across state or national borders and increasing the penalty for violations of federal animal fighting laws to three years in prison became law in 2007. It passed the House of Representatives 368-39 and the Senate by unanimous consent and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.57
The Animal Welfare Act was amended again in 2008 when provisions were included in the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-246). These provisions tightened prohibitions on dog and other animal fighting activities, and increase penalties for violation of the act.58
Cockfighting has inspired artists in several fields to create works which depict the activity. Several organizations, including the University of South Carolina, Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, and London football team Tottenham Hotspur F.C. have a gamecock as their mascot.
Cockfighting has also been mentioned in songs such as Kings of Leon's Four Kicks and Bob Dylan's song "Cry a While" from the album Love and Theft. The story song "El Gallo del Cielo" by Tom Russell is entirely about cockfighting, and the lyrics utilize detailed imagery of fighting pits, gamecocks, and gambling on the outcome of the fights.
The painting "Cockfight" (1847) an academic exercise of the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme "Cockfight" (1847), Vainqueur au combat de coqs (1864) bronze statue from the French sculptor Alexandre Falguière and the painting "Cockfight" (1882) from the Flemish painter Emile Claus are samples of the presence of cockfighting in visual arts.
The Expressionist painter Sir Robin Philipson, of Edinburgh, was well known for his series of works that included depictions of cockfighting.
The 1930 cartoon Mexico shows Oswald the Lucky Rabbit challenging a bear in a cockfight. The 1938 cartoon Honduras Hurricane features the pirate John Silver forcing Captain Katzenjammer into a rigged cockfight. Other cartoon depictions portray humanized roosters treating cockfights like boxing matches; these cartoons include Disney's Cock o' the Walk (1936), MGM's Little Bantamweight (1938), and Walter Lantz's The Bongo Punch (1958).
Live-action films that include scenes of the sport include the 1964 Mexican film El Gallo De Oro, the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid, and the 1974 film Cockfighter, directed by Monte Hellman (based on the novel of the same name by Charles Willeford).
Cockfighting is depicted twice in the 2011 film The Rum Diary (film).
In the Seinfeld episode "The Little Jerry", Kramer enters his rooster into a cockfight in order to get one of Jerry's bounced checks removed from a local bodega where the cockfights actually take place.
In the HBO series Eastbound & Down, Kenny Powers moves to Mexico and is in the cockfighting business until his cock "Big Red" dies.
The 2011 Tamil film Aadukalam revolves around the practice of cockfighting in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In the FX Network's police drama, "The Shield" episode titled "Two Days of Blood" (season #1, episode #12), Detective Shane Vendrell and Detective Curt Lemansky go undercover in a cock fighting event to track down an illegal arms smuggler.
Nathanael West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust includes a detailed and graphic cockfighting scene, as does the Alex Haley novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the miniseries based on it. In literature, a description of a bordertown cockfight fiesta can be found in On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier.59
The video game Law and Order: Legacies uses a cockfight as a plot point. With a man having died because of a rooster with a spur had slashed him, but with a twist that he would have survived if his wife would have called police.
Augustine of Hippo once described a cockfight in spiritual terms: "in every motion of these animals unendowed with reason there was nothing ungraceful since, of course, another higher reason was guiding everything they did".61
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- Revista Carteles, September 2, 1956.
- Reglamento para las lidias de gallos, Ayuntamiento de Holguín, Cuba 1909
- Louisiana State House passes Cockfighting ban
- Legisladores de Luisiana aprueban prohibición a pelea de gallos June 27, 2007 La Voz (Spanish)
- "H.R. 137: Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007". GovTrack.us. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
-  The Animal Welfare Act: Background and Selected Legislation by Tadlock Cowan - Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development - September 9, 2010
- Miller, Tom. On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier, pp. 39-45.
- John McCain talks UFC and MMA, MMARoot
- Cockfight - A Case Book - Allen Dundes - University of Wisconsin Press, 1994 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Cockfighting|
- Humane Society Cockfighting factsheet
- Narrated pictorial on cockfighting in Bali, Indonesia
- Cockfight in Istanbul
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Cockfighting
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