What ever happened to Takeru Kobayashi?

Once upon a time, Takeru Kobayashi was the top dog.

Japan has had many great cultural exports in its history: Pokémon, Godzilla, sushi and Nintendo amongst them. Then there are the athletes that have taken the world by storm, like Shohei Ohtani, Ichiro Suzuki and Antonio Inoki.

Few have made waves like Kobayashi did – and none have the stomach that he does.

When Kobayashi burst onto the American competitive eating scene in the early 2000s, the landscape for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was changed dramatically. Kobayashi would go on to win six consecutive Mustard Belts between 2001 and 2006 (and even starred in a ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial). Kobayashi was the whole dog and bun show.

But then what happened?

Why can’t Kobayashi compete in the hot dog eating contest?

In 2010, Kobayashi and Major League Eating – which sanctions the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – entered a contract dispute. MLE wanted to sign Kobayashi to an exclusive deal, which didn’t sit well with him.

Kobayashi last competed in the July Fourth hot dog eating contest in 2009, when he was again defeated by nemesis Joey Chestnut: Kobayashi finished in second with 64½ hot dogs to Chestnut’s 68.

At the 2010 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Kobayashi was arrested after appearing on stage in the event, though he was not scheduled to participate. Kobayashi maintains that he was trying to congratulate Chestnut and gave in to the crowd, who wanted him to compete.

In the years that followed, Kobayashi continued to eat and set records around the world, but he’d never again compete in the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest.

In 2024, Kobayashi decided to call it a career. On a Netflix documentary titled ‘Hack Your Health,’ Kobayashi detailed how years of competitive eating left his body in a difficult position.

‘I hear people say they’re hungry, and they look very happy after they’ve eaten. I’m jealous of those people because I no longer feel hunger,’ Kobayashi said in the documentary. ‘I hope to live a long and healthy life.’

As it turns out, however, Kobayashi may have a little bit of dog – both literally and figuratively – left in him.

Kobayashi vs. Chestnut record

In their head-to-head meetings at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Kobayashi is 2-3 vs. Chestnut, including an eat-off loss to Chestnut in 2008.

The two will test jaws once again this year, in a special Netflix live event airing on Labor Day, pitting the rivals against one another.

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