Takeru Kobayashi, once the world’s most famous competitive eater, was set to eat hot dogs in exile Monday, far from the competitive eating stage.
The fortunes of Kobayashi, who won six consecutive Nathan’s Famous titles between 2001 and 2006 at New York’s Coney Island, changed in 2010 when he was prohibited from entering the eating contest due to a contract dispute with the organizers.
Despite not being allowed to enter, Kobayashi showed up wearing a homemade "Free Kobi" T-shirt. The crowd cheered as he rushed the stage, but the stunt ended with his arrest on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction of property and trespassing. He spent the night in jail, though the charges were later dropped on the condition that he stay out of trouble for six months.
Kobayashi hoped his upcoming Fourth of July will go off with far less drama. He remains locked in a dispute with Major League Eating, which administers the Nathan’s contest and many others, so he again finds himself barred from the Coney Island event.
Instead, he was due to compete from afar, eating alongside a live satellite feed of the contest on the roof of 230 FIFTH, a New York City bar. He will eat the very same Nathan’s hot dogs and buns, starting and finishing in time with the real competitors.
George Shea, president of Major League Eating, said the league tried to negotiate with Kobayashi for more than a year, but the eater refused to talk.
"They did not offer me a contract that I was able to sign," Kobayashi said.
Shea, an indefatigable booster of his sport, said the spat with the former hot dog champion was very good for business, bringing more attention to the Nathan’s contest and competitive eating as a whole. Even if Kobayashi outeats the Coney Island competitors Monday, the league would not recognize his achievement.
"It’s a farce, and I’m all for it," Shea said "But it’s still a farce."
Kobayashi likewise said he bears no ill will toward the competitive eating league — Shea included.
"I don’t have any vengeance against anyone," he said. "It’s not like that. I went for what I wanted to and felt it was fair. Every time I go for a record now, I’m just working for myself."