How The Annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Took A Decidedly Dark Turn

In 2022, competitive-eating champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut (pictured) took home his 15th win at Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, based on reporting from NPR. Though how an injured foot affects Chestnut's ability to chew is unclear, Chestnut nonetheless managed to stand up long enough with his foot in a cast due to a ruptured tendon to win the event (via Sports Illustrated). What's also notable is that the annual hot dog eating contest was interrupted by a spectator from the crowd, which the champion competitive eater helped address even though the competition was underway, as CNN also reports.

After two years at alternate venues and with capacity limitations on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chestnut's accomplishments took place at the contest's traditional location: in Brooklyn's Coney Island neighborhood, where Nathan's first-ever outlet opened in 1916 (via Nathan's Franks). It was from this year's crowd that a spectator rushed the stage, and that interruption could have knocked Chestnut off his pace, had he not reacted quickly.

Chestnut put a stage-rusher in a chokehold and continued eating

The 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest had begun when a spectator ran on stage to stand near where Chestnut was eating. Once Chestnut realized someone had intruded into his area, he put the male in a chokehold and threw him to the ground. At that point, event security took over and Chestnut was able to refocus his attention on competitive eating and go on to win, as USA Today reports. (Jonah Block posted cell phone video of the confrontation on Twitter.) According to TMZ, three people were later taken into custody on charges related to the incident

The individual who came close to derailing the 2022 Nathan's event wore a Darth Vader mask and held a sign that read "Expose Smithfield's Death Star," a Star Wars reference. In footage of the incident, the "S" is obscured by the protester's hand. The entirety of the sign, though, read Smithfield, for Smithfield Foods, the Virginia-based pork producer from which Nathan's Hot Dogs sources their meat. Smithfield has long been the target of animal rights activists and organizations due to how they allegedly treat their animals, according to Vox. The three men arrested in the Nathan's Hot Dog incident were from Utah, where Smithfield Foods' Circle Four Farms is located, as Utah news outlet ABC4 explains.

The Nathan's hot dog protest was allegedly organized by Direct Action Everywhere

As ABC4 goes on to report, the stage-rushing interruption at the 2022 Nathan's Major League Eating event was allegedly organized by Direct Action Everywhere. That's the same group reportedly behind the 2022 NBA incident during which a woman tried to glue her hand to the floor of the basketball court to protest alleged inhumane practices at Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor's factory egg farm, as ABC4 also explains. Of the three men who took the stage at the Nathan's Hot Dog eating competition, two wore Star Wars stormtrooper masks and one wore the mask of Darth Vader, the only suspect to physically interact with champion-eater Joey Chestnut.

After taking home his 7th-consecutive win in impressive fashion (Matt Stonie broke his streak in 2015, per The U.S. Sun), Chestnut said (via ESPN) it was beautiful to be back at the competition's traditional location, and in reference to his injured foot, he said, "It hurts, but I was in the zone for a little bit. I was ignoring it." As far as the stage-rusher, Chestnut called him a crazy kid, and that it was an overall unfortunate situation (via New York Post).

Miki Sudo came in first in women's competition

Recalling what happened on the stage, Chestnut later told the New York Post, "When he got in front of me ... I didn't know if he was gonna attack me. There was a little bit of panic, and that's why I grabbed him, and I wasn't sure — I didn't know how it was all gonna play out." Chestnut chose to put the intruder in a headlock because his hands were full, according to the champion eater. "After he got out of the way, I was thinking about my rhythm, and if I could get into eating fast, and I was able to. It didn't affect me too much. I was able to keep going," Chestnut continued. And does Chestnut have any wrestling or hand-to-hand combat experience of his own? "Just three brothers," Chestnut said (via New York Post).

Among the male competitors, Chestnut bested the field with 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Though well off the pace for Chestnut's world record set in 2021 of 76 hot dogs and buns consumed, Chestnut's mark was ahead of his nearest competitor. In 2022, Miki Sudo (pictured) came in first among female competitors, downing 40 hot dogs and buns in that same time frame, reclaiming her eighth title since 2014, according to Yahoo! Sports. Sudo competed for the first time since taking 2021 off due to pregnancy, as CNN goes on to explain.