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Takeru Kobayashi is the “Fedor” of hot dog eating

By Zach Arnold | July 4, 2010

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Takeru Kobayashi charged with “obstructing governmental administration” after trying to get on stage to confront Joey Chestnut

Kobayashi has been famous for being the hot dog eating champion of the world. The event producer is Major League Eating, which is the UFC of competitive eating. Each of the competitors, if you want to call them that, must sign a deal with MLE to compete at their events. Every year at Coney Island (the Las Vegas of competitive eating), the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place and the winner gets the mustard belt. The contest airs yearly on ESPN and ESPN pays MLE a rights fee to broadcast it.

(Strangely enough, there was a bidding war a year or so ago between ESPN and Spike TV for the rights to broadcast the event.)

For many years, the mysterious aura of one man dominated the competition and his name is Takeru Kobayashi. However, in the last couple of years, a new #1 surfaced and that’s Joey Chestnut from the Bay Area.

(Mark Purdy in The San Jose Mercury News has an article on Joey this morning.)

Think of Mr. Chestnut savaging hot dogs Brock Lesnar-style. Over the last couple of years, Chestnut overtook the #1 spot but Kobayashi at #2 retained his aura as historically the best at what he does.

Kobayashi, however, is not in this year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest because he wouldn’t sign a contract with MLE. Kobayashi wanted to be able to compete as a freelancer for any competitive events. MLE said no, you have to sign the contract. Kobayashi has refused to sign a deal with MLE. MLE is portraying it as Kobayashi holding out for money. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg got into a verbal spat with Kobayashi and essentially portrayed him as a coward. Joey Chestnut, ever the company man, claimed that Kobayashi’s dispute isn’t legitimate at all and accused him of wanting to start his own organization for promotion.

Rich Shea, who is related to George Shea (the MLE boss who went after Kobayashi in the press), proudly proclaimed this morning on ESPN that about the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest: “This day is bigger than anybody.”

In a bizarre twist, Todd Harris of WEC fame is the sideline analyst for the event. (Replacing Jimmy Dykes.)

Kobayashi’s historic hot dog consumption techniques was compared to Royce Gracie popularizing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in MMA as equal “game-changers” in their respective professions. In a “rookie monsters” graphic to build up a new competitive eating star, the rookie at today’s event having a chance of winning the competition was compared to Brock Lesnar winning the UFC Heavyweight title over Frank Mir.

MLE, through Todd Harris, stated that even if Kobayashi had signed a deal right before the competition that they wouldn’t allow him to compete. The empty feeling of the crowd not witnessing the mysterious Kobayashi, who once competed while having a jaw injury, is in complete contrast to how full Joey Chestnut’s stomach will be when he attempts to eat 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes. As for press coverage of Kobayashi not being allowed to compete because he won’t sign an MLE contract, there has been a fair amount of it this week and most people largely are on Kobayashi’s side and view MLE’s demands as unreasonable for letting him compete in multiple events. MLE says that Kobayashi blew it and that they are growing their brand amongst males 18-34 and 18-49 by bringing on sponsors such as Heinz and Pepto Bismol.

Right before the start of the event, Kobayashi appeared in the crowd and the crowd started focusing on him more than the eaters on stage. In response to the camera shota, Rich Shea proclaimed: “If you can’t come to terms with Major League Eating, then I think you need to come to terms with yourself.”

Without Kobayashi in the contest, the field… doesn’t cut the mustard. Badlands Booker? Crazy Legs Conti? Patrick Bertoletti? Tim “Eater X Ultimate Warrior” Janus? Sonya Thomas? That’s like putting Anderson Silva (Chestnut) against a bunch of Fight Night-level guys… though one of the eaters is a Poutine world eating champion.

(Chestnut ended up winning but ate 54 hot dogs, falling far short of the hyped-up expectation of 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes.)

“If he was a real man, he’d be here on the stage,” Chestnut responded when asked about Kobayashi not competing. “There was no reason for it.”

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