Taking center stage at the crack of dawn Friday, mixed somewhere in between the drunken masses and glittered strippers, will be a legend.
Takeru Kobayashi, the man who put competitive eating on the map, will make his wing-eating debut at the Wells Fargo Center in Wing Bowl XX. Kobayashi holds five Guinness World records, including eating titles for hot dogs, meatballs, pasta, hamburgers and Twinkies.
“I am very honored to be part of Wing Bowl XX, on the event’s 20th anniversary,” the Japanese eating icon said via a translator. “I went last year, saw the excitement in the stadium. It’s a crazy spectacle, but a good one. I’m just trying to forget all the craziness, and think about me and my food.”
Kobayashi has been training since December, starting by eating 100 wings a day. Since arriving in Philadelphia, five days ago, he’s upped it to 200. His goal is 300 wings, which would shatter the record 255 devoured by Jonathan “Super” Squibb last year. Kobayashi didn’t compete in that event, but he did eat a cheesesteak in 24 seconds during halftime.
“I would certainly be disappointed if I didn’t win,” Kobayashi said. “I’ve put in a lot of time and energy to prepare.”
The biggest challenge, according to Kobayashi, is the technique. His plan is to focus on one type at a time, not mixing drumsticks and wings.
“The key is not to lose rhythm and keep pace,” he said.
Do that and Kobayashi feels confident he can win.
“[If I win] it would prove that I am the greatest eater for chicken wings, because it’s the best event for eating chicken wings in the world,” Kobayashi said.
Pomp and circumstance
Kobayashi wouldn’t give us the dirt on his exact plans for his entourage and float. The best ones usually play on Philly sports traditions and feature scantily-clad women. However, he did say that it will be a good one.
“It’s one of the things, the culture of the competition, that I’m most looking forward to,” he said.
Three days after Wing Bowl XX, Kobayashi said he will be appearing on a Japanese TV show, where he will “most likely” be challenging for a pizza-eating world record.
Could it be a girl’s night at Wing Bowl?
It’s been five years since a woman has graced the Wing Bowl stage. Only once — Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, in 2004 — has a female walked away as champion.
This year, Stephanie Torres is trying to buck the trend.
“I’m not expecting to win, but I plan on being with the guys in the last round,” said the 26-year-old California native. “I’m thinking I can do a lot of damage.”
Torres, who is nicknamed “Chilita” for her spicy way of life and love of chili peppers, stands at a slight 5 feet, 105 pounds. However, her goal is to put away 250 wings while competing against a field of 25 (mostly big, beefy) guys. But Torres isn’t backing down from no man, not even the great Kobayashi.
“He doesn’t scare me. He’s another person that loves to do that stuff, eat,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a man [that wins]. A woman can show up, a woman can do just as well.”