Legendary competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi thinks he won his huge battle to become a gustatory free agent — but in the end, he couldn’t beat a small pizza.
Kobayashi, whose reputation as one of the world’s greatest eaters was soiled when he was arrested at the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest on July 4 after refusing to sign the standard Major League Eating contract, was hired by the organizers of the Japanese Art Matsuri festival in Greenpoint on Saturday night to attempt to set a Guinness World Record by eating a 12-inch pizza in under 105.37 seconds.
But the Japanese Jaw failed before a sellout crowd on Java Street, downing the pie in 123 seconds. The champ blamed his failure on Guinness’s strict fork-and-knife requirement.
“It was hard — [the pizza] was too soft,” he told the audience. “I couldn’t get it with the fork. One more time? One more time?”
But the judges didn’t give him a second chance, pushing the six-time hot dog champ deeper into a rut that began in 2007, when he lost to Joey Chestnut for the first of three consecutive times, and culminated with his arrest this July.
The pizza failure was rough, but Kobayashi is likely finding his newfound career “competing” at arts festivals, libraries and press events even harder to swallow. Now a free agent — he refused to sign the “unfair” Major League Eating contract, which simply required that he not compete against the league’s own sponsors — Kobayashi is brushing aside fame and fortune.
International Federation of Competitive Eating President George Shea — who still has an open offer on the table that would allow Kobi to rejoin the league that made him famous in the first place — said that top eaters like Joey Chestnut can earn more than $200,000 a year in Major League Eating, solely on appearance fees and sponsors.
“Yet Kobayashi hasn’t competed in any significant event since he was with us, nor has he had any real competition,” Shea told us. “A contest in which someone eats pizza against no competitors is not something that is compelling viewing for anyone.”
Nor is it lucrative, for that matter.
Some speculate that Kobayashi is creating a new model for competitive eating — the gustatory freelancer, if you will — but Shea disagrees.
“Bean dinners and evening Bingo matches is not a new paradigm for the competition,” Shea said. “I think this is a demonstration of a sad decline.”
Kobayashi didn’t get back to us by deadline, but it’s clear that even his longtime supporters are starting to lose faith after the former champ’s failure to eclipse the Guinness pizza mark.
“He’s gone from champ to chump,” said Fort Greene resident Glenn Cabbagestalk, who watched Kobayashi fail. “He’s way out of his element, but he doesn’t really have an element to go back to.”