The most fearsome competitive eater in the world stands only 5'8". He weighs 135 pounds. His waist is 30 inches. You look at him and you think, I spot this guy a pork shank and I still beat him. Yet this polite waif has made giant men bury their faces in their napkins in agony, struck terror in the stomachs of sumo wrestlers and given all-you-can-eat noodle-shop owners facial tics.
He is Hirofumi Nakajima, of Kofu, Japan, and he's coming to Coney Island on July 4th to defend his title in the 83rd annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Please, keep pets and small children away.
Winning again won't be easy. He will have to beat a man who can eat 150 jalape�o peppers at one sitting. The world haggis-eating champ will be there. So will the American pickle-eating champion. One beast goes 6'7" and 360. None of them can carry Nakajima's fork.
Last year, he ate 24� hot dogs (and buns) in 12 minutes, or enough to kill Babe Ruth three times over. He has put away 50 sushi in one minute; 14 bowls of soba in 30 minutes; more than six and a half pounds of sweet potatoes in half an hour. But he is not merely a speed-eater. He is a classic distance eater as well. He inhaled 15 bowls of noodle soup, 100 pieces of sushi, five plates of wheat noodles, five plates of beef over rice, and five plates of curry over rice in a single lunch. Plus the mint. Another time he slurped down 58 bowls of rice-cake soup in a sitting. There is nobody the dreaded Black Hole of Kofu can't outeat.
"Excuse me," he says, bowing apologetically. "But this is not true. I lost once."
"Yes. To an elephant."
O.K., there is no human the dreaded Black Hole of Kofu can't outeat, unless maybe you're counting Gilbert Brown. Men travel days just to quiver at the terrible things he can do to a menu. Shopkeepers see him coming down the street and immediately start hand-cranking down the steel shutters.
You look at him, this 23-year-old man, not even filling out his shirt, born without benefit of a butt, his belt notched lightly at the first hole, and immediately you think, Two Happy Meals, he's done. When Nakajima humiliated the 360-pounder, former champ Ed (the Animal) Krachie of Queens, New York, at last year's Nathan's Famous contest, Krachie was reduced to crumbs. "I'm dumbfounded on how someone that small can do it," Krachie declared.
"It is a secret," Nakajima says of his gift. "If I told you, you might beat me." The mind shudders. What could it be? Japanese microtechnology? He is a black belt in judo. Maybe it's a Zen thing. "Concentration, yes, is most important," he says.