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Dog fight! Joey Chestnut 'gutted' to be out of July 4 hot dog eating contest over brand dispute

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NEW YORK (AP) — Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the reigning champion of the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, will not participate in this year’s event after signing a deal with a rival brand, organizers said Tuesday.

Chestnut, 40, has long been the face — not to mention the mouth — of the competition. He has vied for the dog-downing contest’s coveted Mustard Belt since 2005 and has won it almost every year since 2007, with the exception of a rare loss in 2015. In 2021, the Westfield, Indiana, resident ingested 76 franks and buns in 10 minutes, a record that still stands.

But Major League Eating event organizer George Shea says Chestnut is moving away from the contest due to a contract dispute.

“We love him. The fans love him,” Shea said, adding: “He made the choice.”

Chestnut disputed who made the choice, saying on the social platform X, “I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathans and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with.”

In a thread posted Tuesday night after the news broke, Chestnut said he had been training to defend his title at this year’s Independence Day event and only learned through media reports that he wouldn’t be allowed to compete.

“I was gutted to learn from the media that after 19 years Im banned,” Chestnut said on X. “To my fans, I love you and appreciate you. Rest assured that you’ll see me eat again soon!! STAY HUNGRY!”

Shea says Chestnut struck a deal with a competing brand — a red line for the Nathan’s-sponsored event. He wouldn’t say which brand but told the New York Times that Chestnut will be repping Impossible Foods, which makes vegan sausages. The company declined to comment on the deal. So did Chestnut.

Shea said the dispute came down to exclusivity, not money.

“It would be like Michael Jordan saying to Nike, ‘I’m going to represent Adidas, too,’” Shea said.

In response, Impossible Foods released a statement that didn’t address a deal with Chestnut but said that the company supports him in “any contest he chooses,” adding “Meat eaters shouldn’t have to be exclusive to just one wiener.”

In May, the company announced an ad campaign aimed at engaging meat-eaters who want to supplement their diet with more plant-based proteins, even if they don’t want to give up meat entirely.

The yearly bun fight, which dates back to 1972, sees large crowds of fans in foam hot-dog hats gather in front of the original Nathan’s Famous’ restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn, to cheer on the the competitors as they chow down. The contestants are allowed to dunk the dogs in cups of water to soften them up, creating a stomach-churning spectacle.

Those vying for second place in the past might have renewed hope to chomp their way to victory this year, including international competitors on the eating circuit.

Last year’s second-place winner was Geoffrey Esper from Oxford, Massachusetts, who downed 49 dogs to Chestnut’s 62. Third place went to Australia’s James Webb with 47.

This isn’t the first time the contest has parted ways with one of its biggest stars.

In 2010, Japanese eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, Chestnut’s then-rival, also stopped competing in the annual bun fight due to a contract dispute with Major League Eating. Kobayashi crashed the contest in a T-shirt reading “Free Kobi” and was arrested. He was sentenced to six months’ probation. Kobayashi announced his retirement from the sport last month.

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