The Truth About Joey Chestnut's Feud With Kobayashi

In many ways, competitive eating is like professional wrestling. On the surface, both seem to be all about a bunch of large, sweaty dudes offering simple entertainment for the unwashed masses, but if you peek behind the curtains, they're complex and dangerous affairs that can easily wreak havoc on a body. Also, both forms of entertainment have their great champions and major stars – as well as huge feuds. 

The brightest stars of competitive eating are two men who don't look like competitive eaters at all. We have the relatively slim Joey Chestnut, the self-professed most successful competitive eater in history, who was gunning for an engineering career until he discovered his bottomless stomach at 21. On the blue corner, there's Takeru Kobayashi, an even fitter and more lithe Japanese competitor that dominated the eating scene for much of the 2000s with his revolutionary technique and grueling training regime that enables him to stuff his stomach so full that it shoves his other organs out of the way, leaving him quite literally short for breath. As two intense eaters with their eye on the prize at all times, the two have clashed a number of times – and should any bard compose a ballad of competitive eating, their clashes alone will surely receive a verse or two. Here's the truth about Joey Chestnut's feud with Kobayashi.

Joey Chestnut thinks his feud with Kobayashi was cut short

The untold truth of Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi comes down to one simple thing: Kobayashi used to be the undisputed eating champion until Chestnut did the unimaginable and beat him. In 2007, Kobayashi was a six-time winner of the granddaddy of all eating competitions – Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. However, that year marked the end of his invincible reputation, as relative newcomer Chestnut managed to beat him. Perhaps his role as the ultimately victorious up-and-comer means that Chestnut, in particular, seems to relish the pair's feud (per CBS Sacramento). "It's the only time in my life where I did something where the big majority of people thought was impossible," he said of his victory against the seemingly invulnerable Kobayashi.

Unfortunately for fans of riveting competitive eating rivalries, Kobayashi was ultimately unwilling to continue their feud in the Major League Eating promotion. Chestnut, on the other hand, has said that he'd be more than willing to continue the pair's clashes, and has noted that Kobayashi might have gotten the impression that the American eating champ is more hostile than he actually is. "We've had many opportunities to compete against each other, and he won't do it," Chestnut told TV Insider. "Maybe he will understand that I may have come off super mean, but I was just being competitive. Maybe he thinks I came off as mean."

Kobayashi says his problem's not with Joey Chestnut

The Chestnut-Kobayashi feud has been enticing enough to warrant a documentary called The Good, The Bad, The Hungry. Chestnut enjoys the way the 2019 doc gave them a chance to be seen as athletes instead of gluttons. "I think between Kobayashi explaining his technique and me going through my training, I think people will understand we don't eat like that on a daily basis," he said. "We're just training for that one thing the same way a runner doesn't have to run everywhere. They train for their big event. We're competitors."

Perhaps surprisingly in the wake of an entire documentary based on their battles, Kobayashi doesn't seem to view his rivalry with Joey Chestnut as a feud at all – at least, not one with Chestnut. The eating legend's true beef is with Major League Eating and their contracts, which forbade him from competing in non-MLE events. Kobayashi felt this restricted his freedom, and the contract disputes ultimately led him to sever ties with the organization. In retaliation, the league banned him from competing in the 2010 Nathan's hot dog eating contest. (Kobayashi turned up anyway, and was arrested for his efforts.) 

Kobayashi has told The Japan Times that instead of Chestnut, he "had more of a problem with [co-founder of MLE] George Shea," noting, "He used Joey Chestnut to conceal the fact that he had a problem with me." Then again, he has also accused Chestnut of cheating, so ...

Chestnut feels that Kobayashi might be avoiding him on purpose

Chestnut has made clear that he's not all that certain about Kobayashi's reasons to steer away from him. "I don't know if his side is reality's because people can see every time he lost, he'd have an excuse," he's said about Kobayashi's attitude toward competitions. Chestnut has even insinuated that the Japanese competitor may have lied about his beef with the powers that be, stating that it may be "possible he was fabricating these issues about freedom. They really weren't big issues because he was signing the same contract for nine years in a row, and the six years he was winning. It was only when he started losing that he started complaining." 

Ouch. Though the hatchet may be more or less buried (or non-existent) from Kobayashi's side, comments like that make it pretty clear that Chestnut still has a bone to pick with his old nemesis. If only there was some way they could settle their differences once and for all ...