On July 4th, not only will we be celebrating America’s Independence with fireworks and barbeques, but we’ll also be celebrating by witnessing superhuman feats – the carnivorous devouring of roughly 15 pounds of hotdogs in 10 minutes. In other words, next Wednesday, we’ll all be tuning in to watch the 2018 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest televised live on ESPN 2.
America’s most popular competitive eating competitions returns to Coney Island, on the corner of Surf and Stilwell avenues, where it’s been held every year since the early 70’s. This year, the main storylines are whether or not another contestant can upset the reigning, defending champs: Joey Chestnut for the men and Miki Sudo for the women.
The history of this competition is wrapped up in legends and lore that add a certain charm to a contest where you gorge yourself to the point of almost passing out. It was believed that the first contest was held in 1916 at Coney Island, and was to settle a dispute between 4 immigrants fighting over which one of them was the most patriotic. This legend permeated through local media over the decades and became the main origin story of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Another popular legend claims that this contest began in 1917, when Mae West’s dad challenged Eddie Cantor to a hot dog eating contest. Whether it’s 4 immigrants battling it out, or a Hollywood hot dog duel, there’s no records of either of these legends taking place.
The first recorded hot dog eating contest at Coney Island was in 1972. Since then, this contest has grown to world-wide fame with over 40,000 people attending each year and millions of people watching on TV. It wasn’t until 2011, that Nathan’s created an all-women division for the hot dog eating contest.
Since 1997, this world renowned contest has been sanctioned by a governing body known as Major League Eating (MLE). Only contestants under contract with MLE can participate in this famous contest. Throughout the years, the MLE has tinkered with the competition’s rules. As of today, the following is a list of the major competition rules according to Wikipedia:
Over the years, the awards have changed for the contest winner. However, one award that has been a mainstay for the last few decades is the coveted bejeweled mustard yellow belt. Since 2011, the mustard belt has been given exclusively to the men’s winner and a newly created bejeweled pink belt has been given to the women’s winner. In addition to these belts, the following unconfirmed cash payouts are expected to be given to the Top 5 finishers in both the men’s and women’s divisions:
I consider the modern era of competitive eating, especially this contest, to have begun in 2001, with the arrival of Takeru Kobayashi. With that said, here’s a list of the past men’s winners:
|Year||Past Men’s Winners||# of Hot Dogs|
As you can see, Kobayashi and Chestnut have combined to win 16 of the last 17 contests. Only Matt Stonie has been able to sneak in there and get a win (2015).
Here are the past winners for the women’s competition dating back to the inaugural contest in 2011:
|Year||Past Women’s Winners||# of Hot Dogs|
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas won the first three contests before being dethroned by Miki Sudo in 2014. Since then, Sudo has gone on to win four straight women’s competitions.
With nearly 20 contestants in the men’s competition, most sportsbooks only have odds listed for the top male competitive eaters. The following odds are courtesy of BetOnline:
Joey “Jaws” Chestnut isn’t just the greatest hot dog eater in the world, the 34-yeard old is widely considered the greatest competitive eater of all time. Standing at 6’1”, Chestnut’s competition weight tends to come in around 230 pounds. He burst on the scene in 2007, when he defeated the 6-time hot dog eating champ Kobayashi. Chestnut would go on to win 8 straight competitions until a shocking loss in 2015 to Matt Stonie. Jaws would return to claim his throne in 2016 and successfully defend it in 2017 to earn his 10th mustard yellow belt. This year, Chestnut is a huge favorite over every other competitive eater in the world. Speaking of the world, Chestnut has held or currently holds 43 world eating records across a wide range of foods. A few of these impressive records include:
Matt Stonie at +700 provides some betting value considering his past success in this competition. The 26-year old shocked the world when he defeated Joey Chestnut for the 2015 mustard belt. He ended Joey’s reign of eight consecutive victories. Stonie consumed 62 hot dogs in his 2015 title win, compared to 60 by Chestnut.
In 2016, Stonie set out to defend his hot dog eating title, but was demolished by Chestnut who ate 70 hot dogs compared to Stonie’s 52. Last year, Stonie finished 3rd with 48 hot dogs. Carmen Cincotti finished second with 60 and Chestnut finished first with 72 (just 1 ½ hot dogs less than his world record).
Matt competes at a weight of around 130 pounds, which makes him much smaller than Chestnut. But, don’t let the size fool you. Stonie currently holds, or held, at least 13 world eating records according to MLE. Some of those records included:
The Field comes in with +700 betting odds. This does not include last year’s runner up Cincotti who is a +450 odds to win this year. Cincotti believes he can dethrone Chestnut next week and cruised in his qualifier with 50 hot dogs. He’ll be right up there competing with Joey this year.
But, since this section is all about The Field, let’s take a look at one competitor who has the best shot from this group of contestants to make some noise. Geoffrey Esper consumed 45 hot dogs in his qualifier this year to enter into this contest again. Last year, Esper finished 4th with 44.5 hot dogs. His qualifier results prove that he’s made progress from last year and that he has a shot at placing in the Top 3. Some of Esper’s impressive eating accomplishments include:
If you thought the men’s betting odds were limited, the women’s odds are scarcer. Most oddsmakers, like BetOnline, have the defending champ’s odds and that’s it.
Sudo has won the last 4 women’s competitions and there’s no end to her reign in sight. Last year Sudo crushed the competition by eating 41 hot dogs. Michelle Lesco finished second with 32½ hot dogs and the former 3-time winner Sonya Thomas came in third with 30 hot dogs.
Miki is proving that she’s only getting better each year, which is scary for the competition. A look at her progress over the last four years:
This really is Sudo’s competition to lose. She’s at the top of her game, while her competition is inconsistent at best. Despite being an overwhelming favorite, there will be two competitors that will force Sudo to bring her best effort: Lesco and Thomas.
Lesco came in 2nd last year, and she’s already showing to being at the top of her game. Lesco won her qualifier by consuming 29 hot dogs, which was more than any other female competitor to win their qualifiers. Lesco has finished 4th or better since entering the women’s competitions in 2011.
Sonya Thomas is quite possibly the oldest competitor, but is also one of the best in women’s competitive eating history. The soon-to-be 51 year old came in 3rd last year with 30 hot dogs, which broke a string of three straight 2nd places. Her 2017 effort was also 5 hot dogs less than her 2016 effort. Thomas should never be taken lightly. Not only is she a 3-time winner, but she also holds the women’s all-time record with 45 hot dogs.
In addition to betting on who will win the contest, there are some intriguing betting props to check out. The following are the two most popular betting props from online bookmakers:
I’m going with the Over here. Last year, Chestnut ate 72 hot dogs at this contest. In 2016, he finished with 70 hot dogs consumed. Joey holds the world record with 73.5 total hot dogs. He’s also consumed 68 or more hot dogs on 3 different occasions. If he comes in at the top of his competitive eating game, then he should get at least 70.5 hot dogs. And, he’s going to need to hit this number because last year’s runner up Cincotti has already declared that he will eat at least 70 hot dogs this year.
This prop bet is a little bit more difficult to select. I’m going with the Over because I believe Sudo will hit at least 41 hot dogs this year, which is what she consumed last year. But, it’s going to be close. In 2015 and 2016, Sudo ate 38 hot dogs each year. Top competitor Sonya Thomas has consumed 40 or more hot dogs on three different occasions, including her record of 45. So, I expect at least 40 this year, most likely 41.5 to 42 for Sudo.
This year’s competition will surely be exciting to watch. It’s one of the most grotesque, yet fun 10 minutes of television. I expect Sudo and Chestnut to retain their titles and keep those belts around their waists. The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is a great way to kick off your 4th of July festivities. Just don’t get too excited and try to have your own eating competition at your family BBQ. Remember, these are trained competitors.
For those die hard hot dog eaters, the following is a list of fun facts for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest:
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