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Plucky wing eaters make no bones about their desire to win 1st place

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut was a bit under the weather Sunday.

“I had a fever, I felt dehydrated; I just wasn’t myself,” he said.

But with 2 pounds of Duffs medium chicken wings in front of him, competitors surrounding him and a cheering crowd before him, Chestnut – the reigning wing-eating champion emerged.

He ate 205 wings in 12 minutes – setting a new record and retaining his title – at the 14th annual National Buffalo Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field.

The two-day festival concluded Sunday with its premier event, the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship, which featured 13 contestants, including top national competitive eaters like former champ Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.

“This year was wonderful – it was the most energy felt ever at the Wing Fest,” said Drew “Wing King” Cerza, founder of the festival.

About 70,000 people from all over the U.S. and 64 countries attended, Cerza said. The festival featured more than 30 chicken wing vendors, offering 120 flavors of chicken digits. Lloyd Taco Truck, was also present, selling a chicken wing taco.

Boneheads Wing Bar of Rhode Island won “Fan Favorite.”

New to the festival this year was the Craft Wing Showcase, in which chefs demonstrated the cooking process used for their specialty wings. The festival also featured four local craft beer breweries. The chicken wing creations were paired with signature craft beers.

A highlight of Saturday’s festival lineup was the Buffet Bowl, a “first-to-finish” contest featuring various staples of Buffalo cuisine that have in the past included Buffalo-style chicken fingers, barbecue wings and pierogies.

Sunday’s main event – the 12-minute “all-you-can-eat” chicken wing gobbling contest – filled the field of the stadium with fans and those curious about the competition. Both contests, which bestowed winners with a total of $5,000 in cash and prizes, are governed by Major League Eating, the world governing body for all gastrocentric sports and contests, more than 80 of which are held annually.

“The people of Buffalo are such welcoming hosts,” said Sam Barclay, the Major League Eating emcee of the competition. “It’s a privilege every year with Drew and his team behind the scenes and a crowd out front. They make it special.”

Thomas won first-place honors in the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship five years in a row, from 2007 to 2011. She last won the contest by eating 183 wings in 12 minutes.

“Buffalo is my second home,” she said before the contest. “I love this competition; I’ve done so well here. And I would like to get the title back.”

But Thomas, the petite, 48-year-old legend in the competitive-eating world, who was frequently stopped for selfies by festivalgoers, admitted Chestnut had been on a tear, dominating competitions nationwide, especially wing-eating contests.

“You never know, so I’m confident,” said Thomas, who is ranked No. 5 in the world.

Chestnut won last year’s wing-eating contest by downing a world record 192 chicken wings in 12 minutes. He also holds more than two dozen competitive-eating records in other food categories, including hot dogs, apple pies and Twinkies.

Chestnut, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, employed a rotating motion as he cleared meat from the bones of the chicken. Other competitors, like the 6-foot-9 rookie sensation Gideon Oji of Atlanta, who recently ate 170 chicken wings in 10 minutes, hauled meat from the bones in one fell swoop. As the minutes rolled past, competitors’ jaws were packed as they stuffed their mouths with more wings.

Thomas consumed 157, finishing in third place, and Miki Sudo, the highest-ranked woman, ate 170 to place second.

Sudo said, “I didn’t think I would beat Joey, but I’m glad I was able to beat the rest of the crowd.”

Proceeds support charities like the Food Bank of WNY, Meals on Wheels and the Alzheimer’s Association’s Western New York chapter.