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Joey Chestnut wins 15th Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, puts protester in headlock mid-competition

The hot dog eating competition saw multiple scarf-down smackdowns including Chestnut's restraining of a protester in Darth Vader garb.

One of the most anticipated events of the 4th of July saw hot-dogging at its most American on Monday.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, 38, scarfed down 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at this year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, successfully defending his hold of the Mustard Belt. The annual competition occurred on Independence Day at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.

The contest was a big-time comeback to the traditional location at Nathan’s flagship shop. Since the hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament has held its last two competitions in different places. 

“It’s beautiful to be back here,” Chestnut told ESPN after his 15th consecutive win, adding that he experienced some pain during the scarf-down session, which impended his ability to reach his previous World Record best of 76 frankfurter and buns. “It hurts, but I was in the zone for a little bit. I was ignoring it,” he said.

Competitive eater Miki Sudo, 36, also took home a win at the event for the women’s division of the competition. Scarfing down 40 dogs and buns in the 10-minute match, Sudo earned her eighth victory in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Last year, Sudo stepped away from the competition because she had different type of bun in the oven — a baby boy.

This year's event, however, was not without its drama. Chestnut arrived at the competition in crutches after reportedly sustaining a ruptured tendon in his leg.

In the middle of the competition, with a gullet fully loaded with franks, Chestnut put an animal rights activist who crashed the stage in a brief headlock. The footage, which went unaired by ESPN, made the rounds on social media.

In the clip, three protesters dressed in Darth Vader and Storm Trooper costumes shove their way onto the stage. One manages to maneuver his way beside Chestnut and reveal a sign that reads “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar.” In the split seconds after the reveal, Chestnut briefly restrains the protester in a headlock.

According to a press release shared by Direct Action Everywhere, a grassroots network of animal rights activists, the protesters were protesting hot dog manufacturing methods.

A protestor interrupts defending champion Joey Chestnut competing in the 2022 Nathans Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 04, 2022.
A protestor interrupts defending champion Joey Chestnut competing in the 2022 Nathans Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 04, 2022.Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

“The ‘Deathstar’ reference compares the villainous megaweapon from the Star Wars film series to the largest factory pig farm in the country, which supplies pork for Nathan’s hot dogs,” read the press release, referencing Smithfield Foods' Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah.

As of this publication, Smithfield Foods has not responded to TODAY’s request for comment.

Each year, for the hot-dog-gorging spectacle, Nathan’s Famous, Inc. donates 100,000 of its beef hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City. In 2013, Wayne Norbitz, the COO of Nathan’s, said in a statement, “Nathan’s is pleased to be able to do its part each July 4th, and we look forward to the day we’ll have donated one million hot dogs.”