Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest: A Breakdown of our Most American Sport

I’m not sure exactly what our forefathers had in mind for our Independence Day celebrations, but we were given somewhat of an outline by one of the key men of the era.

In a letter to his wife — Abigail Adams — on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

If it was sports he wanted as part of the lore and legacy of the day, he received just that.

In the United States, we’re lucky to have a number of huge sporting events that draw massive crowds from around the world— The World Series, the Super Bowl, and the NBA Finals all come to mind.

But perhaps none display our celebratory, gaudy nature quite like the biggest eating event in the world — Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The massive crowds, pomp and circumstance, exhilarating entrances, and competitive over-indulgence scream Americana in all of the best possible ways.

The Contestants to Watch

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is the Wayne Gretzky, Tom Brady, and Michael Jordan all rolled into one of eating hot dogs. He’s the best there is, best there was, and best there ever will be, to borrow a slogan from Bret Hart. He has won 9 of the past 10 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests and owns the record for most consecutive wins (8) and the record for most hot dogs eaten in the contest (70).

Matt “Megatoad” Stonie is the clear number two option in the field. His upset win in the 2015 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Content propelled him from scrappy underdog to full-fledged threat to the crown.

Carmen Cincotti is the rising dark horse in this year’s competition. He finished second in last year’s event by eating 41 hot dogs, but he turned even more heads last month in Queens, where he put down 53 hot dogs. He still isn’t in the upper stratosphere yet, but he’s steadily improving.

The Big Storyline

The 8-year reign of Joey Chestnut was snapped in spectacular fashion in 2015 when Matt Stonie took him down to the tune of 62–60, shocking the eating world.

The year was a difficult one for Jaws, as his engagement with fiancée Neslie Picasa was broken off weeks before the wedding, which was supposed to be in May. While its impossible to say for certain, many felt the break-up hampered Chestnut’s training regimen and focus, leading to the loss.

In 2016, the world would find out if Chestnut’s loss was a mere fluke or if he truly lost the drive and hunger that made him so special.

In spectacular fashion, the former was proven right.

Jaws mauled Stonie 70–53, which basically allowed him to shut down the eating for most of the final minute, a proverbial victory lap in an event that very rarely gives its competitors time for one.

The build-up to this year’s contest is already reaching a fever pitch, as Jaws still seems to be upset that he could have ever possibly lost.

After Stonie put up a video on his YouTube account of him downing 4 4x4 In-N-Out burgers in 3 minutes, Jaws clapped back in an exclusive TMZ video , mocking Stonie’s fashion and slow eating speed. He event went as far as to guarantee a record-breaking performance, assuming his body/mind stay in the same shape for the final week leading up to the contest.

The M.C.

Aside from the pageantry, and unlimited tubed meats, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has one more factor trending in its favor that separates it from all of the other schticky competitions — the greatest M.C. to ever live, George Shea.

I know that sounds hyperbolic, but each of his performance’s is better than the one before it. He has become a spectacle, and he will forever be labeled as must watch.

Shea has an aura about him, some type of indescribable presence, which make the events he calls feel as if they are of vital importance.

He’s made a name for himself in the competitive eating ranks that puts him in the upper eschelon of announcers throughout sports history, amongst people like Vin Scully, John Madden, Howard Cossell, Bob Costas, and Jim Ross.

Betting Odds

Now, we’ve arrived to proably the most important aspect of the competition — the betting.

Since it’s essentially a two-man race, Bovada has the odds set as such, with Joey Chestnut (-400) favored massively over Stonie (+250) head-to-head.

There’s simply no value in betting on Chestnut, but there is a little on Stonie if you feel he can regain his form from two years ago and keep Chestnut’s pace. I don’t feel that he can do that after seeing last year’s massacre, but hey, it’s your money.

With a fully focused Chestnut chomping at the bit to compete again, I expect Chestnut to try to break his own record this year. The O/U for hot dogs eaten by the winner is set at 67.5, but the odds are currently at -370.

The better bet is going over 71.5 at -170 since Chestnut hit 74 in last year’s preliminaries. When backed into the wall, he has proven that he can reach new heights. I expect that to be the case this year.


The 2017 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest will be on ESPN2 noon (et).

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