By: Parth Mukhi
Competitive eating is one of the most gruesome, nauseating events to witness. Yet Major League Eating (MLE) continues to makes millions of dollars, holding around 80 events every year. Unfortunately, the sports greatest rivalry of Joey Chestnut vs. Takeru Kobayashi has been stalled since 2010.
Between the two, Kobayashi & Chestnut currently hold 29 world records with the MLE. The latter of which owning 25, but this is due to the to the ongoing contract dispute between Kobayashi & the MLE. This dispute is the reason Kobayashi has not competed in an official eating contest since 2010, but his own competitions, either by himself or with subpar competitors. Meanwhile, Chestnut has been tearing up the ranks of competitive eating. He’s won the granddaddy of eating events, the Annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, a record seven straight times. Thus surpassing Kobayashi’s record of six straight.
The main issues standing in the way of the contract between the two sides is that Kobayashi believes that, “the organization that produces the event cannot be the same agency that also owns the athletes.” Meaning, the MLE is the main body which contracts all their eaters, rather than the competitors having their own separate agents, like in most other sports. Kobayashi’s wish was for more freedom. He asked to be let go of the other three events he was set to compete in, and only enter the Nathan’s events. From what Kobayashi has said, the MLE countered with a $40,000 contract for the July 2010 & 2011 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, and stated that he could not compete in any other eating events for the year in the U.S. or Canada. His sponsorships were also limited to only MLE sanctioned companies.
For the sport, this dispute is a shame. The two top ranked eaters in the world, both in the prime of their careers. MLE President George Shea remains adamant that Kobayashi was offered $100,000 for 4 events, with $25,000 guaranteed whether he won or loss. While, Kobayashi feels like he’s fighting for the future of the sport and its competitors, Chestnut continues to dominate. Upon eating 68 hot dogs at Nathan’s in 2012, he declared, “I will not stop until I reach 70. This sport isn’t about eating. It’s about drive and dedication, and at the end of the day hot dog eating challenges both my body and my mind.” The following year he would break this record by eating 69 hot dogs. This was impressive, but it had already been done. Kobayashi ate 69, two years prior, at an off-site event, with independent judges there to establish the record.
Event by event, this sport is missing out on what should be it’s “Golden Era.” This should be the time period in which competitive eating rises among the ranks, starts to hold more and more televised events, begins to make more sponsorships, and attract new fans. The rivalry between Kobayashi & Chestnut could have the equal affect on competitive eating that Magic Johnson & Larry Bird had on the NBA. Potential being wasted due to this contract dispute is heartbreaking. Hopefully either Shea or Kobayashi will eventually come together, and put the sport above their beliefs, and realize the potential for greatness that is right in front of them.
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