Philadelphia's biggest eaters didn't stand a chance this morning against the superhuman maw of Takeru Kobayashi, who set a new Wing Bowl record by eating 337 chicken wings. The old record of 255 wings—set last year by Joey "Super" Squibb—was doomed by the end of the second round, making the final a fait accompli. Squibb managed to put down 271 wings, but he, like everyone else, was little more than a spectator as Kobayashi savaged birdflesh from the bone on his way to the crown.
Actually, Wing Bowl XX was pretty much over the moment Kobayashi announced he was competing. But if doubts lingered, they were dispelled when the following occurred, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:
At one point early in the second round, Kobayashi gagged and nearly vomited. Since Wing Bowl rules dictate that "If you heave, you leave," it would have been a stunning development.
But Kobayashi was able to restrain himself, in fact appearing to re-swallow whatever came back up. After a few taps of his throat, he flashed a smile to the cameras before going right back to eating.
That's not arrogance, people. That's confidence. Kobayashi's dominant victory recalled some of his next-level performances when he first burst upon the American eating scene a decade ago. Back then, he didn't just beat jumbo-size American eaters. He lapped them.
Kobayashi earned $20,000 for the win. More important to him, however, was the attention he garnered. Before Wing Bowl XX, he hung out with NBA players. After the contest, he was blurbed in major newspapers.
Kobayashi, you see, wasn't just at Wing Bowl to eat. His appearance was another effort to upend the competitive eating status quo, which is dominated by Major League Eating (run by the folks who put on Nathan's hot dog eating contest every July 4). Kobayashi and MLE parted ways in 2010 over a contractual dispute: Kobayashi wanted to pursue eating and food-related opportunities outside MLE's professional circuit, which includes stars such as Sonya Thomas and Joey Chestnut. MLE wasn't having it.
Chestnut, who is the closest thing Kobayashi has to a nemesis, last appeared at Wing Bowl in 2008, when he won the competition by downing 241 wings.
The next year, Wing Bowl organizers closed the event to professional eaters. [UPDATE: It's not so much that Wing Bowl is closed to pros, but more that MLE eaters haven't been allowed to compete there in several years.] Chestnut hasn't appeared since. Although Kobayashi has always been a professional eater, he now exists in some kind of ronin state, a free radical bumping through this weird subculture and making it all the more interesting.
If the reaction in Philadelphia to Kobayashi's win is any indication, Wing Bowl fans agree. On Friday, they showered the Japanese eater with Philly's highest form of praise:
Boos rained down from the top of the Wells Fargo Center as Kobayashi flexed his muscles after his coronation.