UPDATE: Joey Chestnut devoured 69 hot dogs and buns to win the annual Coney Island hot dog-eating contest, while Takeru Kobayashi ate just 67 at a rival event across town.
Takeru Kobayashi was, by all accounts, the competitive eating world's first superstar, winning the 4th of July Nathan's International Hot Dog-Eating Contest title from 2001 to 2006. In his first year of competition, he ate twice as many hot dogs as his closest competitor.
Indeed, when competitive eating went mainstream, thanks to ESPN, in 2004, it was the slightly-built Japanese wonder who captured the world's imagination. How could such a small man eat so many hot dogs, everyone wondered.
The 35-year-old Nagano, Japan-native was catapulted into a career of binge eating after winning a Japanese TV show. He became an overnight sensation in his home country and soon brought his talents to U.S. shores where he is widely credited with popularizing the sport by turning the annual Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest into a must-watch 4th of July event.
Yet, a contract dispute has kept him away from the Coney Island Boardwalk for the past three years.
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Essentially, the winner of five Guinness records -- hot dogs, pasta, meatballs, Twinkies, hamburgers -- refused to go along with what he called overly restrictive limits on endorsements and remuneration imposed by Major League Eating, the international federation that runs the Nathan’s 4th of July Contest and other annual events. Kobayashi has decided to instead navigate the niche industry alone.
George Shea, spokesperson for Major League Eating, reiterated in an email to International Business Times, Wednesday, that Kobayashi was never actually banned from the competition.
“Kobayashi is not part of our league and so he is not eligible to compete in our events, but we have always welcomed him into our league. In fact, we have asked him each year if he would like to be part of the league and he has repeatedly declined.
“After losing three straight hot dog contests to Joey Chestnut, he left the league, which freed him to go out on his own and exploit his fame in events such as the upcoming Uncle Bob's Self-Storage Cupcake-Eating Contest, which has captivated the attention of nearly all competitive eating fans in the Upper Saddle River, N.J., area,” Shea continued.
It’s true. Kobayashi did lose to San Jose-native Joey “Jaws” Chestnut three years in a row. His star power was fading to the point where he ceremoniously stormed the Nathan’s stage in 2010 and proclaimed himself a freedom fighter. It was a low moment for Kobayashi, but the Japanese champion eater has made somewhat of a comeback over the past two years.
In 2011, Chestnut scarfed down 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win at Coney Island while his mortal enemy, Kobayashi, ate 69 at a simultaneous event across town on the rooftop of 230 Fifth in midtown Manhattan. In 2012, Chestnut ate 68 hot dogs at Coney Island while Kobayashi ate 68.5 at a bar in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Nathan’s officials dismissed both records.
This year, Kobayashi is at it again with a 4th of July tournament at Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel, in Chelsea. “You can expect to see a stage full of exceptional eaters and me coming in with a new world record,” he said when IBTimes caught up with him two days before the spectacle.
So how do you prepare your body to ingest dozens of hot dogs? “I’m preparing by training my stomach to expand to the fullest it can possibly go,” the pro explained. “I begin this a couple months prior to the event by drinking water and adjusting the amounts as the days get closer.”
Kobayashi has never been shy about marketing himself. He has starred in commercials for Sports Center, Eight O’Clock Coffee and MasterCard, and appeared on MTV’s True Life, Saturday Night Live and numerous late night shows. Now, he’s getting into the hot dog business.
“After the event, I will unveil my brand new hot dog, the Kobi Dog, which is very exciting for me this year,” he said. “The Kobi Dog is made with all beef Midwestern grain-fed cattle and perfected to a great snap, bite and taste.” Anyone can buy the snappy new product online from Rastelli Foods Group, beginning Thursday afternoon.
When all is said and done this 4th of July, Chestnut will almost certainly take the mustard yellow belt at the Nathan’s International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island.
And, Kobayashi will undoubtedly win the title at his own match at the Eventi. There’s really nobody else who comes close to competing against these two at shoving hot dogs down their throats, which is why it’s such a shame that they won’t compete against each other.
***This article was updated on July 8 to reflect the location of Uncle Bob’s Self-Storage Cupcake-Eating Contest and the sarcastic tone intended by Major League Eating spokesperson George Shea.