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The world of competitive eating has never seen a champion quite like Takeru Kobayashi. After all, who could have expected a 5-foot-8, slender kid from Japan to be able to gobble down 50 hot dogs? Without Kobayashi, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest would never have grown into the annual spectacle that captivates audiences worldwide on ESPN.

While he has stepped out of the spotlight in recent years, that hasn’t stopped Kobayashi from amassing an impressive net worth. And along the way, he etched his name into record books and helped legitimize the sport of competitive eating.

Takeru Kobayashi’s rise to competitive eating fame

No matter the sport, an underdog always exists. In the case of Kobayashi, he most certainly began his competitive eating career without much fanfare. Born in Nagano, Japan, he boasted a skinny 131-pound frame that looked nothing like the massive bodies of most competitive eaters. Yet, when he burst onto the scene in 2001, he left Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest viewers shellshocked.

In his Fourth of July debut, Kobayashi scoffed down 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He completely obliterated the previous record of 25 hot dogs. That set the stage for a remarkably dominant run in which the Japanese sensation won six consecutive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest titles.

His penchant for putting down obscene amounts of food has carried over to other cuisines, too. Kobayashi holds a number of world records that will truly make you reconsider asking for a second portion at dinner. He consumed 337 buffalo wings in 30 minutes back in February 2012. Kobayashi even ate 62 slices of pizza in just 12 minutes. Talk about filling.

Despite his rise to competitive eating fame, Kobayashi has fallen off the map in recent years. The man once synonymous with the July 4th eating contest has become a ghost.

The six-time champion hasn’t competed at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in years

At one point, Kobayashi drew in viewers worldwide every Fourth of July. Everyone wanted to see if he could surpass his previous record in downing dogs and buns under the hot sun. Yet, the six-time champion hasn’t competed in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in years.

Much of that had to do with his dispute with Major League Eating. Because MLE does not sanction the traditional July 4th contest, Kobayashi announced in 2010 that he would no longer compete in the annual tradition.

However, that didn’t stop him from making an appearance that summer. Surprisingly, the ex-champion went onto the stage after the competition and actually got arrested. Though he initially faced charges for resisting arrest, trespassing, and obstructing government administration, those charges got dropped about a month later.

While Kobayashi has continued to scoff down insane amounts of food in other contests, Joey Chestnut has taken over as the face of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. However, the reigning champion still looks up to his predecessor when it comes to his fortune.

What is Kobayashi’s net worth?

Believe it or not, you can bank as a competitive eater. While Joey Chestnut has a net worth of $1.5 million, that pales in comparison to his Japanese counterpart. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Kobayashi has an estimated net worth of $3 million. Of course, he didn’t become wealthy from a lucrative contract like typical athletes.

Instead, he became a millionaire through endorsement deals. During his legendary competitive eating career, Kobayashi has appeared in numerous commercials for major brands like MasterCard, Coors Light, and Eight O’Clock Coffee.

According to BuzzFeed, Major League Eating attempted to work out a deal with Kobayashi back in 2010 that would pay him $25,000 to appear at four events. If he won all four events, he would make up to $100,000.

Negotiating, he asked to be contractually obligated only to the Coney Island contest, and to be free to compete, participate, host, judge, and endorse outside of the league. Instead, MLE offered him $40,000 to compete in only two Nathan’s July 4 contests in 2010 and 2011, but insisted on exclusivity. Meaning, Kobayashi’s guaranteed salary from anything related to competitive eating would be $40,000. 

In 2012, Kobayashi nearly scored a major payday with Hofmann’s. He had a deal in place that would pay him an annual salary of $100,000 plus a portion of sales from Hofmann hot dogs, in addition to a few other perks. However, the deal fell through after investor Frank Zaccanelli had to resign and settle a lawsuit concerning financial and romantic allegations.


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