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Last week, in our new series What If, we wondered: What small thing would’ve lead to new NBA champs this year?
And it was a very good time!
Mainly, you know, with ourselves.
But the exercise did get us thinking: What if we ask you, our wonderful audience, what you think instead of telling you what we think! (How novel!)
So to keep the ball rolling — as most of the major sports are all out-of-season for us— we’re going to dip our toe into the world of competitive eating. (Partly because we’re also hosting this goofy hot-dog-eating contest pool, too.) (Join up and you could win a ridiculous gold-colored hot dog trophy!)
This week, The What If Question is:
What if Takeru Kobayashi didn’t play hard-ball with Major League Eating? What if he signed the contract? Where would the sport of competitive eating be now?
“In eating, there are two eras,” Jason Fagone, who wrote the book about competitive eating, once told the New York Post. “Before Kobayashi and After Kobayashi.”
Fagone was no exaggerator.
The name Kobayashi has become as synonymous with competitive eating as Pepto Bismal has become with the day after competitive eating.
And with good reason. He was basically the Michael Jordan of cramming food in his face. (Both have 6 titles to their name, for what it’s worth).
In his first year competing in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Kobayashi DOUBLED the record, slamming a then-record 50 hot dogs down his gullet in 12 minutes. He went on to win the contest six years in a row. His dominant performance yielded his placement on the Wall of Fame at Nathan’s HQ…
There wasn’t a glib or goofy bit about the way Kobayashi ate.
It was ferocious… bodily… It was truly inspirational.
No doubt, without the Japanese native’s feats of the eats, the entire notion of competitive eating would still be stuck in ironic or amateurish performances at state fairs.
But then, the Major League Eating folks got involved.
They wanted their star player, their main attraction, this destroyer of dawgs, to sign a restrictive contract that prevented him from competing in non-sanctioned MLE events. Kobayashi wouldn’t sign on the dotted line; the MLE wouldn’t let him slam franks in his face on their watch. It got so contentious that Nathan’s removed the star from their Wall of Fame and he never returned to their event.
It was the farthest thing from an amicable hot dog divorce as you can get.
Ultimately, the notable vacuum that Kobayashi left was filled by none other than the GOAT, Joey Chestnut, who has gone on to win nearly every Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest since. (Chestnut, for his part, has only lost three times in the past 20 years of the contest… twice to our friend Kobayashi).
Even with his Dog Dynasty, it’s still pretty hard to imagine a world where Chestnut comes to power without Kobayashi paving the way. With his mouth.
And while this whole saga is still admittedly hilarious and just beyond wacky on its own, I think it actually does highlight a theme across all sports: The Importance of Rivalry.
More specifically: Don’t rivalries bring out the best of both parties? In fact, when has a rivalry not challenged a great player to become even greater?
Is there a Sammy Sosa without a Mark McGwire?
Is there a Rocky without an Apollo Creed?
Is there a Nathan’s Hot Dog without a Ballpark Frank?
And ultimately, is there a Joey Chestnut without a Takeru Kobayashi?
Let us know what you think about all of this — including your favorite recipes — in the comments.
Note: Don’t answer this one in the comments. Answer in a reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s say there’s a rope of hot dogs placed end-to-end that stretches from the Earth to the Moon: How long would it take for Joey Chestnut to eat the entire rope, assuming his record-setting rate of 76 hot dogs every 10 minutes?