The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is now a major Fourth of July spectacle. The unique event, which takes place on Coney Island, has been dominated by six-time defending champion Joey Chestnut. He holds the record of 68 hot dogs and buns.
Joseph Gallivan of the New York Post reports viewing of the event has doubled over the past decade, reaching around two million viewers. This year's telecast will take place at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and will be replayed at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
Knowing that, let's take a closer look at the star eaters headlining each competition. The men will compete for the mustard-yellow belt while the women will battle for the pink belt, currently held by Sonya Thomas.
Chestnut has developed into a dominant force on the men's side. He's won the event six straight times, including both since they split the contest into two separate competitions, and has regularly broken the 60 hot dog and bun mark.
It's amazing to consider the standard before Takeru Kobayashi broke onto the scene early in the millennium was in the 20s. Now, Chestnut is pushing for 70 while his competitors are breaking the 50 plateau—an impressive feat in its own right.
Speaking of Kobayashi, he's once again expected to miss the event he helped make famous. Darren Rovell of ESPN reports the Japanese sensation will hold a separate event in New York City, marking the fourth year of his holdout.
It's unfortunate because the budding rivalry between Chestnut and Kobayashi could have taken the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest to another level. Instead, the American star has been able to take complete control of the competition in recent years.
Two eaters that have at least given Chestnut a minor challenge are Patrick Bertoletti and Tim Janus, also known as "Eater X." They have finished second and third in each of the past three years, with each cracking the 50 mark along the way.
Unfortunately, Bertoletti won't return to compete this year, according to the Rake and Herald. It takes away one of the few eaters who at least illustrated the ability to push Chestnut.
That said, it opens the door for rising star Matt Stonie. He's currently ranked fourth by Major League Eating and could eventually become champion of the event. He recently set a new personal best with 47 hot dogs and buns.
Chestnut should still be the overwhelming favorite, though.
Just as Chestnut has rolled past the competition on the men's side, Thomas has looked unbeatable on the women's side. She has won the pink belt both times it has been up for grabs and is within striking distance of 50 hot dogs and buns.
The toughest part is finding a woman capable of serving as a serious threat to her championship reign. The two names that stand out are Miki Sudo and Juliet Lee, who are both ranked inside the top 10 of the Major League Eating rankings.
Sudo qualified for the event, but has apparently withdrawn from the competition. The Las Vegas Sun reports she dropped out of the Nathan's event, but will still compete in the Wing Eating Championship later in the month.
That leaves Juliet Lee as the main challenger for Thomas' pink belt. Given her success in recent years it's hard to pick against the "Black Widow." It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if there's repeat winners on both sides once again in 2013.