Joey Chestnut's Most Glorious Moments As A Nathan's Hot Dog Contest Champion

Every sport has its greats. Basketball has Michael Jordan, tennis has Serena Williams, and competitive eating has Joey Chestnut. Chestnut, born in California in 1983, is heralded by the Major League Eating organization, or MLE, as "the greatest eater in history." Since he first hit the competitive eating scene in 2005 after his brother convinced him to sign up for a local competition, Chestnut has amassed an astounding 55 World Records. Some of his more notable achievements include eating 53 Taco Bell tacos in eight minutes, 118 jalapeño poppers in 10 minutes, and 121 Twinkies in six minutes. While it's undeniable that Chestnut is a world class eater no matter what's on the table, there's one dish that he's the absolute master at packing away. 

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Chestnut is best known as the multi-year champion of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, which he has been dominating for over a decade. Every year on the Fourth of July, hopeful eaters trek to the original Nathan's Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island to compete in the competition. First established in 1972, the event is intended as a fun way to celebrate America's independence with one of the most patriotic activities around — eating copious amounts of hot dogs. It may sound silly, but it's a real competition with serious competitors. Among the many champions over the years, no one has made a bigger splash than Joey Chestnut.

Chestnut won his first Nathan's contest in 2007

Before Chestnut hit the scene, the hot dog eating contest's reigning champ was Takeru Kobayashi from Japan. Kobayashi had already made his mark on the competition by shattering previous records. For example, in 2000, winner Kazutoyo Arai ate 25 hot dogs (and buns) in ten minutes. The next year, Kobayashi blew the competition away by packing away 50 hot dogs. From 2001 to 2006, Kobayashi maintained his title as the hot dog eating champion. 

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That all changed in 2007, when a fresh-faced Joey Chestnut made his debut at the Nathan's competition. In his first hot dog based event, Chestnut ate a record-breaking 66 franks. Over the next couple of years Kobayashi would continue to compete, and even came close to beating Chestnut the year after being unseated as champion. Kobayashi would, however, eventually move away from hot dogs, as Chestnut went on to break his own records. His 2007 win against Kobayashi would turn out to be the start of an eight year winning streak.

He won every year from 2007 to 2014...

Over that period, Chestnut would continue to perfect his hot dog eating game while taking part in other eating events, like eating 390 shrimp wontons in eight minutes. Chestnut is certainly a formidable eater regardless of the food, but Nathan's hot dog eating contest was his to lose. One must imagine that facing off against Chestnut felt something like playing one-on-one against LeBron James; it's not a question of if you're going to lose, it's when. As the years went by, the lead between Chestnut and whoever was in second place continued to expand. 

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For instance, in 2013, Chestnut ate 18 more hot dogs than the runner up, Matthew Stonie. Unfortunately for Chestnut, Stonie wouldn't forget this loss. Two years later in 2015, the then 23 year old competitive eater would cause the upset of the century when he defeated Chestnut 62 to 60. A lesser man may have let this end his career, but Chestnut took it in stride. The next year, he came back with a vengeance.

...And every year from 2016 to today

In 2016, Chestnut won the Nathan's hot dog eating contest (taking the crown back from Stonie) by breaking yet another record: 70 hot dogs in ten minutes. If you've never seen people eat hot dogs competitively, it's definitely not the most attractive sight. A row of people hopping around and scrunching up their face as they shove wet, mushy hot dogs down their gullet is upsetting to say the least, but it's a fascinating insight into the mindset of these athletes. Watching Chestnut at the 2016 competition, you can't help but be in awe of his determination. It almost looks like he's in pain, like there's so many hot dogs in his belly he'll explode, but the systematic way in which he keeps loading in food is a display of pure human will.

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Year after year Chestnut wins the hot dog eating contest without giving the other competitors a chance. He consistently wins with a total of over 70 franks. In 2020, he won with an incredible 33 dog lead. One might assume that after eating all those hot dogs, Chestnut would be tired of the dish. But as it turns out, he loves a casual hot dog, especially when it's cooked the right way.

He broke the hot dog eating World Record in 2021

There are some records in the sports world that are simply hard to believe, like Simone Biles' 23 gold medals or Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game. That's a bit what it feels like to think about Joey Chestnut gulping down 76 hot dogs in ten minutes. Because let's be real: with the toll it takes on one's body and all the preparation that's needed beforehand, competitive eating is certainly a sport. In order to break the hot dog eating World Record in 2021, he had to train, which included practice runs, mouth and jaw workouts, and going on runs. Needless to say, Chestnut won the 2021 competition, and the Mustard Yellow Belt that comes with it, for the sixth year in a row.

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As of the time of writing, Chestnut has won the Nathan's hot dog eating contest 16 times. Throughout the competition's history, no one has beaten Chestnut's scores. However, there's always room for more eaters, so with a bit of practice even you could win the Mustard Yellow Belt! Just make sure to practice with some deliciously crispy hot dogs first.

He was the subject of an ESPN '30 for 30' episode

In 2019, ESPN released a special documentary series entitled, "30 for 30: The Good, The Bad, The Hungry." The special was well received and offered an in-depth look on the rivalry between Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi. The film chronicles Chestnut's rise to acclaim, and sets it against Kobayashi's, who at the time was an established figure in the competitive eating world. There are some dark moments in the film; George Shea, co-founder of the MLE and host of the Nathan's contest, shared the jingoistic remark to the Washington Post, "How can the Japanese guy beat the American? America's honor besmirched." 

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While many Americans doubtlessly shared the thought, Kobayashi should be credited as pushing the competition to new heights, and by every account, competition between the two has always been friendly.  Of Kobayashi Chestnut said, "The other competitive eaters, they thought of him as unbeatable ... He wasn't an eater. He was a god." Sadly, Kobayashi retired from competitive eating earlier this year. And though Chestnut has been barred from this year's Nathan's competition, he still has an appetite for glory.

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