Gut check: Runner-up ready to beat Chestnut at hotdog-eating contest

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He says there will be a new top dog-eater in town.

A relative newcomer to the Nathan’s Hot Dog-Eating Contest says this is the year he’ll unseat meat-eating machine Joey “Jaws” Chestnut this July Fourth — he can feel it in his gut. The upstart has challenged Chestnut in the past, but this year, like the franks he’ll be cramming down on Independence Day, he is on a roll.

“I’ve had a great year so far,” said competitive eater Matt Stonie of San Jose, California. “I’ve been training really hard and put up some good numbers.”

Stonie is stuffed full of confidence because he has beaten Chestnut before at non-wiener eating competitions. In February, Stonie had his cake and ate it too, besting Chestnut at a birthday cake eating-contest in Florida. And last year, he wrested away Chestnut’s Twinkie-eating title.

“I took [Chestnut] out six times last year,” said Stonie, “and this year we’ve only competed once so far, and I took that one over him.”

Stonie is a member of Major League Eating, the sanctioning body for more than 80 international competitive eating contests. The sport is equal parts finesse and sheer willpower, but this time around, Stonie is banking on dogged force.

“It’s about bringing brute strength to the contest — that’s what I’m going to be changing this year,” he said.

Stonie trains like every day is game day, and he is not letting the hurdles of West Coast life stand in his way.

“[Nathan’s] are hard to find — the natural casing ones — because most stores only carry skinless, but I’ve got a special order coming,” he said.

Chestnut has reigned since 2007, when he unseated world-renowned eater Takeru Kobayashi, and he routinely bests second-place eaters by ten or more hot dogs.

Stonie has competed five years running, edging his way past perennial runners-up Tim “Eater X” Janus and Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti in to come in second last year. After another year of training, Stonie said he and Chestnut are the only two who will truly vie for big dog, the challenger said.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything, but Joey and myself — we’re in a league of our own. Sometimes we’re eating double what the third-place eater does.”

Last year, Chestnut gobbled up 61 wieners to Stonie’s 56 and Janus’s 44.

And there is more than the $10,000 top prize riding on this year’s match-up.

“I’ve been told by Major League Eating officials that, generally, who wins the contest on the Fourth of July will be ranked number one in the world,” Stonie said.

Despite the intense competition, there’s not a lot of beef between Stonie and Chestnut, the former said.

“We see each other a lot and most of the people on the circuit become friends,” Stonie said. “We get along surprisingly well — when we’re not competing. We’ll maybe meet up, maybe grab a drink or see a movie. But I haven’t talked to him in a long time because The Fourth of July is around the corner.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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