Joey Chestnut is the world's most famous professional eater, a man who in just 10 minutes can put away 69 hot dogs, 47 grilled cheese sandwiches, 118 jalapeno poppers, 5.9 pounds of funnel cake or 53 Taco Bell soft beef tacos. Your choice.
So when he returns to Clearwater on Thursday to defend his title in the Hooters World Wing-Eating Championship — last year, he crushed 144 wings in 10 minutes — he has to be the odds-on favorite, right?
Not so fast. Meet Miki Sudo, a 27-year-old Major League Eating rookie who, at a regional qualifier in June, destroyed Chestnut's 2012 title-winning total, downing 192 wings in 10 minutes in her hometown of Las Vegas.
Sudo is something of a phenomenon in the world of professional eating. Since joining the pro circuit in April, she's zoomed to No. 7 in the Major League Eating rankings, in the process actually beating Chestnut head-to-head in a rib-eating contest in Chicago. Sudo ate 2.9 pounds of rib meat in 8 minutes; Chestnut could muster only a mere 2.5.
All of this is a surreal new world to Sudo, who stands 5 feet 7 and weighs 125 pounds, with a trim, athletic build.
"It's like I woke up one day and realized I'm good at something," Sudo said recently by phone from Las Vegas.
"But it's been a whole lot of fun. I get to combine eating with traveling with meeting new people with competition. These are four things that I absolutely love. So it's been the best of a whole lot of worlds."
As Sudo comes to Clearwater, she talked about her potential as an eater, the art of downing a Hooters wing and more. Here are excerpts.
You beat Joey Chestnut head-to-head in a rib-eating competition, and then you've got this wing competition. What is it about meat with bones that you seem to do well with?
We call them debris foods, because you end up discarding all the bones and cartilage and all that. But I think my advantage is it's more based on technique and speed rather than chewing capacity. None of us get full by the end of the 10-minute competition. … Because it's not a head-to-head capacity contest, I can really take off. And I really enjoy chicken wings and ribs. That can't hurt, right?
Have you always been a big eater?
No, not at all. About a year and a half ago, I took on this 12-pound bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup, pho. If you finished this massive bowl, you would collect the progressive jackpot, which happened to be at $1,500. So a couple of my friends had done it and failed, and I was just like, I can do that. … So that was without any practice or any planning, really. I guess it's just something that I discovered. Growing up, I didn't have a huge appetite. … That's never been me.
Is there a technique to eating a Hooters chicken wing really fast?
There's no pacing yourself. You just go as fast as you can for all 10 minutes. Nobody's going to be hitting capacity. We're all going to be eating somewhere between 5 to 7 pounds of chicken wing meat, which is well within our limits. So it's really just speed more than anything. I hold them a certain way, split the bones and scrape the meat off with my teeth.
What do you think about when you're doing it? Or is it all concentration on your technique?
When I'm eating, I really don't think about anything. I don't hear anything other than the time. I don't listen to music. It's just pure focus. Even when I faced off against Joey and other highly ranked eaters, it doesn't really matter who's next to me or who's beside me, who my competition is for the day. It's really a competition against myself, because I'll usually go in with an idea of what I want to do in terms of numbers or weight.
Do you have a target in mind?
I know I can improve upon my total of 192. It depends how it's set up. At the Hard Rock, they gave us a 20-pound bowl of wings. If I had unlimited wings, I could have gotten through more. But I just want to beat my number of 192.
And you feel pretty good that you can?
Yeah. I don't see why not.