By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —It’s hard to tell whether or not Takeru Kobayashi is an artist or a machine. The pint-sized international eating star’s canvas, easel and palette are wings, chicken legs and the silky metronomic style in which he devours food. But seeing him in person, watching him swallow inhumanly massive amounts, you wonder if his stomach isn’t made of steel and his mind isn’t run by a computer chip.
Kobayashi wanted to make Wing Bowl 20 memorable, he wanted to put on a show for the ages, and he did. He ground down a serious group of competitors, including three-time defending Wing Bowl champion Jonathan Squibb, and five-time overall champ Bill “El Wingador” Simmons in smashing the previous Wing Bowl record with 337 wings before a packed bizarre crowd at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday.
Squibb took second with a personal-record 271 wings and Simmons finished a distant third with 250.
Everything Kobayashi set out to do, he did. He practiced for the event, the first time he ever competed in a wing-eating contest, by eating 200 wings a day, then increasing that amount to 300 as the contest neared.
“You know it was a little harder than I expected,” Kobayashi said through his manager Maggie James. “The texture of the wings was a lot different than the meat on the wings I was training with. That made it more difficult to take the meat off the bone. But overall, I’m pretty pleased with what I did. And my stomach right now is made of wings.”
Kobayashi, considered the competitive eating version of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana wrapped into one, intended to take Wing Bowl to new heights, wanting to make an appeal for the event to be more global. He walked away with $20,000 in prize money.
Kobi’s entrance, despite the heavy Philadelphia themed entourage that featured the Mummers and Flyers’ legend Bernie Parent, was greeted with a healthy dose of boos. Alcohol no doubt fueled jingoistic fodder that rained down on the Japanese eating star, but nothing reached an extreme level.
You had an early feeling Kobayashi was on to something special when he chomped down a first-round record 165 wings, with Squibb second with 144. Kobayashi showed no signs of tiring, pounding away 152 more, to give him another record 317 after the initial two 14-minute rounds, and further separating himself from Squibb.
Kobayashi did experience one slight hiccup early in the second round, when it appeared he gagged. But Kobayashi adroitly dealt with that, because anyone who “heaves has to leave,” and he caught himself, flicking his throat a few times to clear a path. He then darted a whimsical side-to-side look at the camera, as if to say, “you didn’t see that,” and continued eating.
The 33-year-old eating legend smoothly polished another 20 wings in the two-minute speed round, though it was pretty academic.
“Kobayashi was great, I tried my best and he pushed me to eat more wings than I ever had,” said Squibb, who walked away with a great consolation, a 2012 Chevy Camaro, which was awarded the “local winner.”
By the end of Wing Bowl 20, Kobayashi swayed many in the audience in his favor, simply by his brilliance in what he does.