Is there a surer bet in sports than Joey Chestnut inhaling wieners, sliding those all-beef dogs down his throat faster than anyone else on America’s Independence Day? Well, I guess that it happens on Coney Island on the southern coast of Brooklyn, or than Nathan’s will supply the buns, weins, several reversal-of-fortune buckets, and the water or liquid each contestant uses to help digest so much food. Other than that, Chestnut has won every interaction of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest since 2007, save for a two-dog loss to Matt Stonie in 2015. As Chestnut is a lock to go 16 for his last 17 Nathan’s titles, every win since 2010 has come without his greatest rival of all-time slurping down a hot dog by his side.
Takeru Kobayashi hasn’t competed in competitive eating’s Super Bowl since 2009 because he won’t sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating, who sanctions the smorgasbord. That means the sport’s most popular duo has only competed against one other five times in its biggest spotlight. The up-and-coming Chestnut lost to Kobayashi in 2005 and 2006, and even led the latter of those two contests for most of the allotted eating time. According to a 2010 New York Times story, Kobayashi had a dispute with MLE surrounding the exclusivity rights involved in signing a contract. MLE allegedly barred its athletes from earning money in other competitive eating events. The contracts also gave MLE the right to negotiate outside revenue opportunities, like sponsorships and media appearances, like the NIL of today. MLE would allegedly earn 20 percent of those profits for setting up external cash flow.
Kobayashi brought competitive eating to the masses and now has to play by the same rules as everyone else? I can see him wanting to be treated better than everyone, minus Chestnut. At the same time, having an even playing field is how every other sport is conducted. Sign to MLE, then negotiate your contract. That’d be like LeBron James signing a non-NBA Finals contract when he played for the Miami Heat. How much different would his legacy be without the titles? I know it’s a ridiculous argument, which is why Kobayashi sitting out this one event is beyond dumb. And Chestnut taking on those who can’t compare just to retain the big mustard belt is academic.
Chestnut is nearly six years younger than Kobayashi and it’s not exactly down to a science what the prime competitive eating age is, as the 39-year-old Chestnut started winning the Coney Island classic in his mid-20s. And can anyone see him slowing down anytime soon? Check back at 49 to see if anything has been able to innovate competitive eating to pass him. I guess MLE could use its Steph Curry. Now every high school kid is pulling up from 35 feet thinking they can drain every shot. Are there multiple ways to win a competitive-eating contest? Plate to mouth hole seems like there’s less room for innovation.
The list of foods Chestnut has eaten to world-record status is wide-ranging, from 18 pounds, 10 ounces of St. Elmo Steak House’s spicy shrimp cocktail in eight minutes, to 126 tacos in eight minutes, which equates to one devoured taco per just under four seconds. His Nathan’s record is 76 hot dogs and buns, set in 2021. The amount of eating records Chestnut holds is incomparable to anyone else. You don’t rate lasting legacy by minor events however, it’s how a performer shines, or doesn’t, during big events. Tennis players get rated long-term by how many Grand Slam championships they’ve won. And while Chestnut’s record at Nathan’s looks impeccable, he’s been swallowing the hot dogs and buns without his greatest rival present. That’s not Chestnut’s fault at all. But it’s an indisputable part of his legacy.
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