Joey Chestnut eyes Nathan’s contest on July 4th despite ban

Joey Chestnut will try to pull off the extraordinary on the Fourth of July more than 2,000 miles from the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest from which he was been banned.

He will be competing against soldiers at the Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso, Texas. But when he’s devouring hot dogs and buns, the 16-time Nathan’s champ also will have the competitors of Coney Island on his mind.

The contest in El Paso is set to last five minutes. The Nathan’s contest in Brooklyn, New York, will last 10 minutes. Chestnut said his hope is to consume more hot dogs and buns in five minutes than the winner at Nathan’s contest manages this year in 10.

“I think 56 is doable,’’ said Chestnut, who in 2021 set the Nathan’s record with 76 hot dogs and buns. “I’d be very happy to do that.’’

There will be no live ESPN telecast like at the Nathan’s contest, but there will be a livestream, with the masticating set to start at 5 p.m. ET. There also will be charter airplanes pulling banners in Los Angeles and Miami encouraging people to “Watch Joey Eat.”

“I wish them luck on that,” said George Shea of Major League Eating (MLE), which runs the Nathan’s contest. ‘And I guess it’s possible that Joey’s such an amazing eater that he could do that (eat more hot dogs than the Nathan’s winner in half the time) and that may be a way to snub us on Coney Island. But it’s just not going to the Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.’

Nothing seems quite the same with the Nathan’s contest, especially Chestnut’s relationship with Shea, the event’s longtime emcee, and MLE. It was MLE that announced June 11 Chestnut could not compete at Nathan’s because he’d signed an endorsement deal with Impossible Foods, a brand that sells meat substitutes. Competitive eaters at the Nathan’s contest cannot endorse hot dogs other than Nathan’s, which sponsors the contest on the Fourth.

On Tuesday, Shea said MLE had offered to ‘set aside the exclusivity issue” and let Chestnut compete this year. But he would be allowed to do so with the plan of signing a multiyear deal with Nathan’s before the 2025 contest and end his partnership with Impossible Foods.

Chestnut’s representatives declined, Shea said. Chestnut’s representatives did not provide a comment in response to USA TODAY Sports’ request submitted by email.

“I think it’s fair to say that Impossible or any other brand that chooses Joey is doing so because of his recognition as a hot dog eater,” Shea said. ‘In fact, what they’re promoting and selling is a hot dog. So I don’t thnk it is fair to suggest it’s not a conflict.”

Regardless, Chestnut will be enveloped in patriotism Thursday at Fort Bliss, where he will have to eat more hot dogs than the combined total of four soldiers to win.

“I’m thinking, might as well make it five (soldiers) so I won’t get lazy,’’ Chestnut told USA TODAY Sports. “Sometimes if it looks like I’m in the lead, I slow down. I really want to push hard for all five minutes.

“If I’m going to eat on the Fourth of July, I’m going to eat hard.’’

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Joey Chestnut copes with ban

Three weeks after he learned he’d been banned by Nathan’s, Chestnut said he’s still coping. It’ll be the first time in 20 years he will not compete on the Fourth on Coney Island.

“There’s definitely a lot of pain,’’ he said. “There’s a bit of grief.’’

In 2022, it became evident how important the contest is to Chestnut. He competed less than three weeks after his mother died. And he arrived at the contest on crutches because he had a broken leg.

“I was like, all right, I don’t really want to tell people it’s a broken leg because then they’ll realize how crazy I am and how much I love this contest,’’ he said. “And I really didn’t want to tell people that my mom passed away because they’d be like, what, you should be grieving.

“This situation is really bad, but it’s not nearly as bad as that one. I was able to get through that one and I was able to get through the year I lost (in 2015 to Matt Stonie) and come back stronger. I’m going to get through this and we’re going to see where it takes me.’’

Of Chestnut, Shea said, ‘He’s a great person and I consider him a friend. I would never want him to feel emotional distress ever. But I do believe in this cse, the emotional stress was prompted by his choices.”

One welcome distraction, Chestnut said, is his scheduled showdown with Takeru Kobayashi on Labor Day to be broadcast by Netflix. They last competed in 2006, a year before Kobayashi left Nathan’s because of contractual issues with MLE. Chestnut expects intense competition from his former rival.

“He’s not friendly toward me, which motivates me even harder,’’ Chestnut said. “We know we’re trying to push each other to uncomfortable limits.’’

Joey Chestnut open to Nathan’s return

Chestnut said he’s holding out hope of a return to the Nathan’s contest. But he said he had no regrets about his signing with Impossible Foods and how it transpired. His representatives and Impossible Foods would not disclose details of the deal.

“Maybe time and public opinion will make them more reasonable,’’ he said of MLE, which runs the Nathan’s competition.

On X, New York mayor Eric Adams wrote, “Stop being such weenies! It would be ‘impossible’ to have this year’s Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest without Joey Chestnut. Let’s find a way to squash this beef and bring back the champ for another 4th of July at Coney Island!’’

Said Shea, “He’s right. The issue here is we got into a contract dispute. You can get into who’s right and who’s wrong. Ultimately the fans just want to see Joey.”

But MLE’s offer to let Chestnut compete if he agrees to sign with Nathan’s and leaves Impossible Foods has gone over as well as a plant-based hot dog at the annual Fourth of July contest. But the impasse remained civil.

“I’m not burning bridges,’’ Chestnut said. “They’ve made this bed and now we’ve got to sleep in it and figure out a way if there is a way (to reconcile).

“But I think publicly I’ve been pretty respectful.’’

Joey Chestnut, meat lover

Chestnut balks at the notion he’ll be eating plant-based hot dogs in Fort Bliss or during his competition against Kobayashi. All beef, he assured, in dispelling the misnomer he’s gone from carnivore to vegan because of his contract with Impossible Foods.

Informal talks between Chestnut and the company were underway by early this year, said Peter McGuinness, the company’s CEO. Chestnut’s representatives declined to provide the terms of the contract. The company declined, too, but it did announce it will be chartering the planes in Los Angeles and Miami pulling those ‘Watch Joey Eat” banners.

“He really represents our target audience,’’ McGuinness said. “We’re a plant-based meat company. We’re not a vegan company. We make food designed to appeal to meat eaters and Flexitarians, people who eat animal meat and who also eat plant-based.’’

Chestnut attests he fits the profile.

“And if I eat 14 pounds of bologna on Saturday, you can bet on Monday I’m going to be eating a plant-based diet and high fiber,’’ he said. “That’s part of my recovery. I’m very happy to be working with them, but I still love meat.’’

For the record, Chestnut said he’ll be eating all-beef hot dogs against Kobayashi on Labor Day. And, if he returns to Coney Island one day, it’ll be more beef.

“If he ends up going back to Nathan’s, we’ll support him,’’ McGuinness said. “I just don’t see it as this controversial competitive at-war type of thing.

“And I don’t think they should either, frankly.’’

What to expect on the Fourth

Chestnut said he’s heard supporters say of the Nathan’s contest, ‘We’re not watching without Joey (competing).”

But Shea said he expects bigger crowds and higher TV ratings because of the ‘intense” controversy over Chestnut. He also said he thinks a more competitive contest might appeal to fans at an event that attracts more than 40,000 people every year, according to Allison O’Donnell, a publicist for the contest.

While Chestnut usually dominates the field, Shea said this year he’s expecting a tight competition among four top eaters on the men’s side.

And Chestnut’s future on Coney Island?

“He’s always welcome back,” Shea said. ‘If he and his team want to resolve it, I’m certain we can.’’

Follow Josh Peter on social media @joshlpeter11

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