Takeru Kobayashi was long considered the world's greatest competitive eater, until he lost to Joey Chestnut at the Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2007. He last competed in 2009, and a contract dispute has kept him out of the last two events. The annual showdown just isn't the same without him.
The 34-year-old Japanese chewing machine will not compete in the event again this year because he refuses to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating.
Last year he competed off-site by downing what would have been a world record 69 hot dogs, but since he was not in attendance, the record was not recognized.
Joey Chestnut is the current reigning world champion, having won the event five straight times. But the last two victories have felt empty without his top competition in attendance. Average spectators know the names of both competitors and that elevates their contest to the level of an anticipated showdown. Without Kobayashi there it basically becomes the Joey Chestnut show.
On July 4th this year Kobayashi and Chestnut will be competing again, but not at the same location. Kobayashi has helped create the "Crif Dog Classic" which will take place in Brooklyn, while Chestnut will be back at Coney Island for Nathan's contest.
The official record currently stands at 68 hot dogs, after Chestnut set it at 2009's Nathan's event. But without Kobayashi in attendance all of Chestnut's accolades feel hollow.
Hopefully Kobayashi and Major League Eating will come to some kind of agreement in the future.