Nathan's hot dog eating contest: Joey Chestnut scores 12th win, devouring 71 hot dogs

CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn -- Devouring an impressive 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes, defending champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut won the coveted Mustard Belt for the 12th time Thursday afternoon at the annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest on New York City's Coney Island boardwalk.

This year, Chestnut faced 17 opponents, including 2015 winner Matt Stonie -- the only man to beat Chestnut since 2007. Chestnut easily topped second-place finisher Darron Breeden, who downed 50 hot dogs and buns, and Geoffrey Esper (third with 47).

This was Chestnut's his fourth time consuming over 70 dogs, and last year, he set a record by eating 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

"I feel like I should eat a couple more," he said afterwards. "I knew it was going to be close. I was trying hard, and I was overstuffing my mouth and it wasn't going down. I just needed to find a way to move a little bit faster. I think it's getting harder the older I get."

Despite his win, Chestnut said he was disappointed in that he fell just short of his top count, which he admitted was the reason for the Coney Island crowd's attendance.

"Hopefully next year, I'll come back and strategize and figure out a way to do it," he told ESPN.

On the women's side, reigning champ Miki Sudo devoured 31 hot dogs to defend her title. The 33-year-old fell short of last year's 37 frankfurters but easily beat runner-up Michelle Lesco, who ate 26 hot dogs.

Sudo's performance Thursday morning earned her a sixth consecutive title.

She admitted she was fighting the extreme heat, which rose over 85 degrees.

Like Chestnut, she expressed some disappointment in not eating more.

"It wasn't my best number, the numbers were pretty low across the board," she said. "I don't know if it was the heat, but I really can't complain. I wasn't feeling in my best shape, so I'm just glad that it was enough to pull off a sixth belt."

Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas holds the all-time women's record of 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Spectators with foam hot dog hats, plastic noisemakers, and homemade signs descended on Coney Island's famed boardwalk for the contest.

The annual eat-off started in 1972, though the company has long promoted the event with a theatrical backstory that places its start date in 1916.

Chestnut has only lost once since 2007, when he pulled ahead of longtime foe Takeru Kobayashi for the first time. An ESPN documentary released Tuesday features the two former rivals and their extreme training regimens.

"It's not something that there's books written about," Chestnut says in the film, which shows him lifting his head up and down with a weight dangling from his mouth. "There's not trainers. Everything's trial and error."

Kobayashi no longer takes part in the event.

Spectator George Cartolano, 40, said his favorite part of the contest was "watching them try not to regurgitate."

Elle Marks, 27, said she likes Chestnut because he's relatable.

"He's a normal guy who just happens to be able to eat 74 hot dogs," she said.

Chestnut's next meal will probably be a "salad" and "a lot of liquid," he said. But he'll be back next year for the franks.

"As long as I'm healthy, as long as I'm happy and competitive, you can count me in," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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