Joey Chestnut's former fans have beef with the hot-dog-swallowing star after he said he won't compete this year due to vegan dog sponsorship

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America’s perennial hot dog swallowing champion won’t compete in this year’s Independence Day competition due to a contract dispute, organizers said Tuesday.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, 40, has been competing since 2005 and hasn’t lost since 2015. At last year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest he downed 62 franks and buns in 10 minutes.

But Major League Eating event organizer George Shea says Chestnut is moving away from the contest due to a contract dispute.

“We love him, the fans love him,” Shea said, adding that “He made the choice.”

Shea says Chestnut struck a deal with a competing brand — a red line for the Nathan’s-sponsored event — but did not elaborate. He said the dispute came down to exclusivity, not money.

“It would be like Michael Jordan saying to Nike, ‘I’m going to represent Adidas, too,’” Shea said.

In a statement to NBC News, MLE said it was “devastated to learn that Joey Chestnut has chosen to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs rather than competing in the 2024 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.”

The statement said, “MLE and Nathan’s went to great lengths in recent months to accommodate Joe.y and his management team, agreeing to the appearance fee and allowing Joey to compete in a rival unbranded hot dog eating contest on Labor Day. 

Chestnut did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through his website.

Chestnut has long dominated the competition. Those vying for second place in the past might have renewed hope to swallow their way to first place this year, including international competitors on the eating circuit.

Last year’s 2nd place winner was Geoffrey Esper from Oxford, Massachusetts, who downed 49 dogs. Third place went to Australia’s James Webb with 47. That was far from Chestnut’s best effort: his record was 76 Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes in 2021.

In 2010, Japanese eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, Chestnut’s then-rival, also stopped competing in the annual bun fight due to a contract dispute with Major League Eating. Kobayashi crashed the contest in a T-shirt reading “Free Kobi” and was arrested. He was sentenced to 6 months’ probation. Kobayashi announced his retirement from the sport last month.

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