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The biggest rivals in hot dog-eating are headed for a rematch 15 years in the making

Joey Chestnut (L) and Takeru Kobayashi (R) compete in the Nathan's hot dog-eating contest on July 4, 2009, in New York.
Craig Ruttle
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AP
Joey Chestnut (L) and Takeru Kobayashi (R) compete in the Nathan's hot dog-eating contest on July 4, 2009, in New York.

When hot dog-guzzling champion Joey Chestnut was banned from the July 4 contest that made him famous, he vowed that fans would see him eat again soon.

“STAY HUNGRY!” he wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.

And mere hours later, Netflix whet fans’ appetite with a particularly savory announcement: Chestnut is slated to face off against his archrival, Takeru Kobayashi, for the first time since 2009.

The two biggest names in hot-dog eating will reunite for a “wiener-takes-all” competition on Labor Day, to finally settle their “unfinished beef.” The event will stream live on the platform on September 2, with timing and location to be announced later.

“The showdown will settle a 15-year rivalry between the two competitive eaters: Will Chestnut maintain his title as the world’s greatest, or will Kobayashi come in with a vengeance and regain his throne?” Netflix teased in a release.

The stakes are high — arguably higher than the towering trays of hot dogs that each man has mastered the art of devouring. Stay with us while we ketchup on their history.

Kobayashi helped grow competitive eating into the sport it is today

Takeru Kobayashi poses for the cameras after winning the annual Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island on July 4, 2005.
David Paul Morris / Getty Images
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Takeru Kobayashi poses for the cameras after winning the annual Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island on July 4, 2005.

Kobayashi, 46, is often called the “Godfather of Competitive Eating,” and credited with popularizing the sport in the U.S.

The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island had been sort of a joke since the 1970s, Jason Fagone, the author of Horsemen Of The Esophagus: Competitive Eating And The Big Fat American Dream, told NPR last year. Competitors had goofy nicknames and didn’t exactly train for it.

Then came Kobayashi, who rose to fame eating 16 bowls of ramen in an hour on a TV show in his native Japan.

He first brought his talents — and a novel technique, involving snapping hot dogs in half and dunking buns in water — to the Coney Island stage in 2001. He ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, doubling the existing record and breaking a world record of his own.

“And then after that, everything changed because there started to be real money,” Fagone said. “Pretty soon, ESPN was broadcasting the hot dog contest live.”

Kobayashi won the contest six years in a row. But in 2007, plagued by a training-induced jaw injury, he lost 66-63 — to none other than Chestnut. Chestnut bested him again the next two years.

Kobayashi parted ways with Major League Eating (MLE) in 2010, after rejecting their contract because of its exclusivity clause. He showed up to the July 4 contest that year despite being barred from the event, and was arrested after climbing onstage as spectators chanted “Let him eat.”

He has since spoken about the racism he faced on the circuit and feeling like he "wasn't welcome in America anymore” during Chestnut’s rise.

He continued eating competitively in the years since, including housing a record 14 Twinkies in one minute on the Wendy Williams show in 2012. He holds 10 world records in the sport.

Kobayashi announced his retirement earlier this year in a Netflix documentary. He estimated he had eaten 10,000 hot dogs over his career and damaged his body in the process, saying, “I no longer feel hunger.”

But Netflix’s announcement quotes Kobayashi as saying he’s not quite ready to retire yet.

“Retiring for me will only happen after I take him down one last time,” he said, referring to Chestnut.

Reigning champion Chestnut is in hot water with the governing body

Defending champion Joey Chestnut cheers after finishing in first place in the 2023 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images
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Defending champion Joey Chestnut cheers after finishing in first place in the 2023 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Chestnut, 40, is currently the top-ranked competitive eater in the world, according to MLE.

He holds some 55 Guinness World Records for devouring all kinds of foods in 10 minutes or less, including a jaw-dropping 76 hot dogs (and buns) at the Nathan’s contest in 2021.

He has dominated that Coney Island tradition since his first win in 2007, earning the coveted mustard belt every year since, except for 2015, when a dogged Matt Stonie clinched the win.

But the 16-time champion won’t be onstage this Fourth of July, after some apparent beef with the event’s organizers.

MLE — which runs the contest with Nathan’s — said Tuesday that he is no longer eligible because he signed a deal with a rival company: Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based products including hot dogs.

In a statement shared with NPR on Wednesday, MLE said it and Nathan’s had gone to “great lengths in recent months to accommodate Joey and his management team,” including “allowing Joey to compete in a rival unbranded hot dog eating contest on Labor Day.”

Well, hot dog, indeed.

Chestnut told Netflix he's looking forward to the rematch with Kobayashi after all these years

“Through all of my years in competitive eating, Kobayashi stands out as my fiercest rival,” Chestnut told Netflix. “Competing against him pushed me to be so much better … It’s time to give the people what they want!”

Their penultimate competition ended in a sudden death eat-off

Director Nicole Lucas Haimes (C) and competitive eaters Joey Chestnut (L) and Takeru Kobayashi attend the World premiere of "The Good, The Bad, The Hungry" in April 2019 in New York City.
Michael Loccisan / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Director Nicole Lucas Haimes (C) and competitive eaters Joey Chestnut (L) and Takeru Kobayashi attend the World premiere of "The Good, The Bad, The Hungry" in April 2019 in New York City.

Chestnut eked out a victory the last time the two faced off in 2009, settling the score with 68 hot dogs to Kobayashi's 64.5.

The previous year’s contest involved a “sudden death” eat-off, after the 10-minute clock ended in an unprecedented tie (59-59).

After a brief pause, each contestant was given five more hot dogs and buns, as the emcee whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

The clock started again, with victory just a few mouthfuls away. Chestnut finished first, in about a minute flat.

“The passion is raw but the hot dogs are cooked,” the ESPN commentator exclaimed. “That’s the most competitive eating contest I have ever seen. And Kobayashi is absolutely crestfallen, he brought everything he had to Coney Island today. He’s a great competitor and a gracious man, but Joey, it would appear, is going to maintain the title.”

And he has held on to it pretty much ever since. It’s no wonder the competitors and their fans are so hungry for a rematch.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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