Matthew Ramirez stepped out on to a raised platform in the Arizona Mills Mall food court and struck the sort of body building pose that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger proud. Unfortunately, muscular definition would be all but useless to the task that awaited 22-year-old Ramirez. No, he would require jaw strength above arm strength. He would require stamina, dedication and, more than anything else, hunger.
Ramirez was one of a dozen or so eaters fighting a war of mastication in the Famous Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Arizona Qualifier. The rules were simple: eat as many hot dogs and buns as possible in ten minutes. Throwing up or "a reversal of fortune" would be grounds for disqualification.
Competitors hailed from all over California, Arizona and even Washington. Erik "The Red" Denmark from Seattle was the only ranked eater at the event. According to the International Federation of Competitive Eating representative MCing the event, Denmark is the 15th highest ranked eater in the world, famously known for being a champion salmon eater. How would he stack up with his preferred food stuff replaced by red hots?
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Nanoseconds after time started Denmark had a couple of dogs minus their buns stuffed into his mouth and was quickly dunking the bread into cups of red sports drink, wringing them out and mashing them into a ball for faster consumption. Each competitor had their own special skill employed for battle ranging from breaking single dogs in half and munching two halves at a time to ravaging an entire plate at once to straight up munching away at a hot dog the good, old-fashioned way.
No matter what method they employed each competitor inevitably hit "the wall," that is the point at which the full impact of their full bellies weighs on their desire to continue. When it hits them you know. Eyes become cloudy. Jaws hang open in defeat. But those competitors who can push through this mental barrier are reborn as unstoppable eating machines whose appetites may only be sated by absolute victory.
For this year's Arizona qualifier, that victory would land squarely in the hands of the only professional eater at the contest. Erik "The Red" Denmark gained entrance into the Coney Island competition on July 4 by putting away 28 hot dogs in ten minutes. As he accepted a trophy for his accomplishment Denmark's arms and shirt were stained with the very same red sports drink that had aided him in victory. It was an amazing feat of gastronomic fortitude to be sure, but not even close to the number of dogs he'll have to eat to stand a chance at winning on July 4. As we previously reported, hot dog eating champions Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut both ate 59 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes at the Nathan's Coney Island competition last year.
Matthew Ramirez knew his chances were slim when heard Erik "The Red" Denmark's name announced, but gave everything he had to eat as much as possible. He said "why not" when asked if he'd be willing to try again next year. Post-competition he was looking forward to having dinner at his grandmother's house. What does an aspiring competitive eater consume after a hard day of chomping on hot dogs? What else? More hot dogs.