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Defending chicken wing champ devours fifth straight title at Wing Fest

The champ was still hungry.

Halfway through the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship on Sunday, the event's host surveyed the 12 competitors' trays and declared Joey "Jaws" Chestnut was trailing.

The stage, in Coca-Cola Field's outfield, was set for an upset. But Chestnut had won the event four times in a row and wasn't about to throw in the paper towel.

Chestnut rallied, powered by fans chanting "Joey! Joey!" He wolfed down a total of 206 wings in 12 minutes to win his fifth consecutive championship, $2,500 and a trophy.

"I just kept with it," he said. "I know that everyone else slows down, but I'm pretty lucky I have an awesome capacity. And with a 12-minute contest, I just had to stay calm and keep pushing.

Geoffrey Esper, who stood to Chestnut's right during the contest, put up a spirited fight. He finished second by eating 194 wings.

It was a festive finish to the second and final day of the 17th National Buffalo Wing Festival. Afterward, Chestnut lingered at the front of the stage to sign autographs and pose for photos, a one-man wing-eating dynasty.

Chestnut, who lives in San Jose, Calif., felt this year's competition was intense. "Some years I have a lead of like 20 wings, so I was a little bit scared," he said. "I knew I was a little bit slower. But it all worked out."

Did Chestnut think he had it clinched when time expired? "I looked at what (Esper) had, and it looked like my tray was a little bit smaller," he said.

One of the event's most popular competitors, Eric "Badlands" Booker, entertained the crowd by rapping about — what else?  — wings. Host George Shea from the competitive eating organization Major League Eating kept the crowd in suspense after the judges had finished their tally. "Wing King" Drew Cerza stood between Esper and Chestnut, and raised Chestnut's arm in victory like a prizefighter when Shea revealed the winner.

Shea had predicted before the contest that Chestnut's strongest competition would come from Esper and Darron Breeden. He was right: Esper was second, and Breeden took third.

Shea said that among competitive eating contests around the country, Buffalo's wing eating championship ranks second only to Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, held annually on Coney Island on July 4.

"You have truly the top talent in the nation coming to this of their own accord," Shea said. "No one's flying them in. They're coming here on the chance to win money, but really they're coming here because Buffalo is so fun."

Cerza said the weekend as a whole was a success for the festival. "We had a little rain to start out (Sunday), but look at what happened," he said, as the field was bathed in afternoon sunshine. "I think the big guy's a chicken wing fan."

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