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Previewing Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest: Can Joey Chestnut break the only record left?

Joey Chestnut

Tomorrow is July 4, the day Americans to do the three things they do best: Talk about how great they are, use explosives, and overeat. This year, though, we’ll squeeze our fourth skill into the day: breaking records.

Tomorrow 40,000 people will descend on Coney Island for a Colossal Calorie Clash, a Showdown of Swollen Stomachs. If the Kentucky Derby is the fastest three minutes in sports, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest is the grossest/greatest 10 minutes in the world.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut can break his tie with Takeru Kobayashi and win his seventh consecutive mustard yellow belt. The guy who used to be a construction engineer but looks like he spends most of his spare time in overalls will also attempt to break his own record by eating more than 68 hot dogs.

Can anybody challenge him? Early last month that didn’t look possible.

Chestnut torpedoed through the competitive eating circuit in late May and early June,  taking back-to-back-to-back events (Gyros, Pepperoni Rolls, and Pastrami Sandwiches). But as we got closer to the World Cup of Weiners, the Stanley Cup of Sausage, Chestnut stumbled. He finished third at RibMania, one of the few non-Nathan’s qualifiying events the MLE held in June.

Is Chestnut passing his prime? At 29, is he no longer the eater he was at 25? Or was RibMania a calculated stumble in preparation for Nathan’s?

If Chestnut is challenged, it will be by one of two people. Tim ‘Eater X’ Janus is the No. 2 eater in the world, and was the top Nathan’s qualifier, knocking down 50 dogs at the Queens qualifier just a week ago. I know he’s a professional, but I question Janus’ turnaround time.

Matt “Megatoad” Stonie has the best chance of being LeBron to Chestnut’s Jordan, if LeBron was a skinny kid from California that kind of looks like a girl. Stonie is part of my generation, the generation that grew up with the hot dog eating contest televised on ESPN. He spent years studying the game before being allowed to jump in. Now at just 21, he’s looking to wrestle the mustard yellow belt and the title of “San Jose’s Favorite Son” away from Chestnut. (Sidenote: How did San Jose become the pipeline for competitive eaters? They’re like Dallas in football recruiting.)

Stonie rides into the Nathan’s with the second-highest qualifying score, eating 47 dogs at the Boston qualifier on June 22. He’s had more recovery time than Janus, but how much is enough when you’ll have to set a personal best by 13 dogs just to have a chance at keeping pace with Chestnut?

And what about Kobayashi? The contract dispute between him and the International Federation of Competitive Eating goes unsolved for another year, which means he’ll spend another 4th of July away from the yellow cups and the hyperbole. Instead he’ll face six bums (figuratively, although it could be literally, I’m not sure) at a New York hotel, and then unveil his Kobi Dog, “from Kobayashi’s own line of grain-fed franks that go on sale July 4.” It’s been a slow tumble for a guy who was once on national television trying out-eat a bear.

Nathan’s has never been the same since Kobi left. Chestnut’s run has been just slightly marred, especially after the controversy surrounding whether Kobayashi ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes at his offsite event in 2011. The five-dog eat off between Chestnut and Kobayashi in 2008 will forever remain the pinnacle of the sport, but Thursday we’ll likely see a man cement himself as the greatest of all time. When that happens, it doesn’t matter which pseudo sport you’re watching.

P.S. If you’re looking for a sentimental favorite, one of the original ‘Fat Man’ eaters, future Hall of Famer Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker is back in the competition after eating 27 at a qualifier. Booker’s new album, featuring ‘Frankster’s Paradise’ dropped last night. You can find it where all competitive eating rap albums are sold.

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