Kobayashi's Contract Battle with MLE Takes Away from Nathan's Hot Dog Contest

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IJuly 4, 2013

NEW YORK - JULY 4:   Chairman of Major League Eating George Shea (C) speaks as Takeru Kobayashi (2nd-R) of Nagano, Japan and Patrick 'deep dish' Bertoletti (R) look on after Joey Chestnut (2nd-L) of San Jose, California defeated them in the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest on July 4, 2009 in Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  Chestnut defeated Kobayashi with eating 68 to his 64.5 hotdogs. Kobayashi won six previous competitions before tying last year with Chestnut.  (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest hasn't been the same without Kobayashi. He took competitive eating to a new level, and he did so with the swagger of a rock star. 

His slender build belies his phenomenal eating prowess, and it has made his gift of gluttony all the more enchanting. 

He won this event six straight times beginning in 2001. When he made his maiden appearance, he almost doubled (50) the amount of the second-place finisher (31)—that's in just 12 minutes, by the way.

It was such an out-of-this-world performance that it made competitive eating somewhat compelling.

Now, while Kobayashi competes in eating competitions, he doesn't at the most famous one of all, and he hasn't since 2009.  

Ben Muessig, on AOL News, helps recount how the star and the league he helped raise the profile of have come to their current impasse.

Major League Eating wanted Kobayashi to sign a contract with an exclusivity clause. Essentially, Kobayashi wouldn't be able to eat in other contests, and the MLE would have veto power on sponsors.

In his first year away from the competition, Kobayashi was in attendance and rushed the stage. He wound up in jail for his troubles. 

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Battles between players and their leagues are not new, and the exclusivity clause is not unique. It's not like the NFL would allow its players to pick just any sponsor. I also don't think the Tigers would let Justin Verlander go pitch in Japan while he's under contract with them. 

However, the MLE's stubbornness to give in is stripping itself of what should be its golden age. Before Kobayashi stopped attending the contest, his eating dominance had been usurped by Joey Chestnut. Chestnut has now equaled Kobayashi's mark of six straight titles. 

Check out the battle in 2007 when Chestnut belly bumped the king from his throne as both men expanded their stomachs to new frontiers:

I don't particularly enjoy watching people eat so much that I start to feel full myself, but competition like that is fun—great rivalries are always entertaining.

These two should be battling like they are Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed (before the two started hugging in the ocean in short shorts, and definitely not while wearing short shorts—if they aren't already, short shorts must be banned from competitive eating).

My point is, the MLE should be milking this rivalry for all it's worth.

In relative terms, it's hard to even think of two competitors this much better than their competition, and all those who came before them, battling against each other.

It would be like Babe Ruth going against another Babe Ruth, or the polar opposite of Mark Sanchez going against another Mark Sanchez. 

The MLE had a chance to be captivating, and it has blown it. The most famous eating competition in the world has suffered because of it. 

Now, instead of watching people overeat on the Fourth of July and feeling full, I end up actually overeating. Thanks a lot, MLE. 

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