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Joey Chestnut Battles Takeru Kobayashi From Afar In 2011 Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest

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CHESTNUT KOBAYASHI
Joey Chestnut, left, of San Jose, Calif., defending champion of the Nathan's Famous July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest works to outpace former champion Takeru Kobayashi, of Nagano, Japan, right, as Chestnut was on his way to his third consecutive win in Coney Island's annual hot dog eating contest with a world-record 68 franks in New York Saturday, July 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) | AP

Yankees vs. Red Sox. Tupac vs. Biggie. Chestnut vs. Kobayashi?

The rivalry between legendary hot dog eaters Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi is sizzling up again, with the two famed gluttons coming to head for another July 4 face-off. But unlike year's past, the duo won't be eating at the same table.

Chestnut, the reigning champ and hot dog victor every year since 2007, will defend his Mustard Belt at the Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Brooklyn, N.Y on July 4.

Meanwhile, Kobayashi will show his stuff on a Manhattan rooftop as the Coney Island contest is broadcast behind him.

The strange stunt comes one year after Kobayashi skipped the Nathan's Famous competition over a contract dispute with Major League Eating -- the organization that hosts most of the world's preeminent eating contests.

But after the competition ended, the Japanese eater rushed the stage and was arrested. Charges against the man known as "The Tsunami" were later dropped on the condition that Kobayashi stay out of legal trouble for six months, but Kobayashi and MLE officials have been unable to reconcile their differences in the time since.

Now an eater in exile, Kobayashi intends to put the hot dogs where his mouth is and prove he's still a top tier competitive eater in an unsanctioned exposition at 230 FIFTH, a rooftop bar.

"He's definitely at the stage where either you win, or you don't win," said retired competitive eater Ed "Cookie" Jarvis. "And when you don't win, you just become another guy."

Chestnut isn't only battling Kobayashi -- he's also battling the record books.

The California native recently claimed his body is built to consume 68 HDBs (hot dogs and buns) in 10 minutes.

But the champ, known around the speed eating scene by the nickname "Jaws," is reportedly aiming to shatter that 2009 record by putting away an astounding 75 HDBs.

"I strongly believe Joey will break the record of 68 this year," said Major League Eating president George Shea.

All eyes are on Chestnut -- who is so widely considered to be the favorite that even sports bookies are putting faith in him.

But some insiders think 2011 might be the year when a seemingly unshakeable stomach gets upset.

The contest will feature China's first foray into competitive eating, with the world's most populous country sending three largely unknown challengers. Competitive eaters are chewing up rumors of their abilities.

The level of skill at the Nathan's Famous competition has greatly improved, as evidenced by the fact that perennial crowd favorites Eric "Badlands" Booker and Crazy Legs Conti failed to qualify.

"It's a real sad day for the hardcore, old school fan," said Shea. "They didn't eat fewer. Other people ate more."

Some insiders think this could be the year when skilled eaters like Tim "Eater X" Janus or Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti -- the 2nd and 3rd place finishers at last year's competition -- will earn the top slot.

"I am more committed and in better eating shape than I have ever been before," Bertoletti told AOL Weird News in the days before the competition.

The playing field -- err... tablecloth -- is more level than it has been in years, according to Jarvis.

"These guys are bringing their A game," he said. "It only takes one bad burp -- believe me, I've had it happen."

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