Devouring hundreds of fried, greasy chicken wings may not be the usual dietary habit of the athletes typically featured on any ESPN channels.
That changed on Sunday, when for the first time in the contest’s 13 year history the network broadcast the U.S. National Buffalo Wing-Eating Championship live on ESPN3.
The channel is the latest national medium to pay attention to what has become a Buffalo Labor Day tradition, the competition being the crowning moment of the weekend-long festival honoring the local delicacy. The festival has also been featured on CNN, The Today Show, the Travel Channel, The Food Network, Discovery Channel and newspapers and magazines around the world.
“The National Buffalo Wing Festival has become a Labor Day weekend institution, and having ESPN carry the event live brings the festival to a new level,” said Drew “Wing King” Cerza, who founded the festival in 2002.
The festival has attracted more than 800,000 visitors since it started, with its patrons consuming more than 4 million chicken wings. This year’s event also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the chicken wing.
As this year’s festival came to a close Sunday evening, crews from the network and Major League Eating, the governing body that oversees professional eating contests, riled a crowd of several hundred wing aficionados who clustered around the stage to watch the action.
Competitor Joey Chestnut, the No. 1-ranked eater in the world, massaged his jaw and lightly jogged in place, a warm up of sorts to prepare for the contest.
“Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for the largest eating contest in all the world?” said George Shea, chairman of the league. “The greatest eaters in the world are here for you. This is a battle for the ages.”
“Are you ready to show America what you’re made of?”
Thirteen eaters participated in this year’s contest, their talents ranging from amateur to world champion eater. The field also included a few previous winners, who brought myriad techniques.
At the start of the competition, they dived into trays of wings, some of them stripping the meat off the bone with their hands while lifting it to their mouths to try to stay ahead of the competition.
After the 12-minute final contest, the judges calculated the weights to determine the winners. The title went to Chestnut, who ate 192 wings – roughly 6 pounds.
“I finally found a rhythm,” Chestnut said after the contest.