Tokyo The competitive eating world is already chewing on this bit of breaking news: The champ may not be able to chomp.
Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, the six-time champion of the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, may be sidelined for next week's event by an arthritic jaw.
Last year, the 165-pound Kobayashi won his sixth straight Yellow Mustard Belt at the Independence Day competition in Coney Island, N.Y., by devouring a then-world record 53 3/4 frankfurters in 12 minutes.
That mark was smashed earlier this month by Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., who gobbled up 59 1/2 hot dogs and buns at the Southwest Regional Hot Dog Eating Championship at the Arizona Mills Mall in suburban Tempe, Ariz., - one of the qualifying events for Coney Island.
Chestnut nearly beat Kobayashi in 2006, downing 52 hot dogs and buns at the contest, which is sponsored by Nathan's Famous Inc.
But Kobayashi, 29, may not be able to defend his title. Earlier this week, he said on his Web site that his "jaw refused to fight any more" during his training.
"Already I can't open my jaws more than just a little bit," he wrote. "There's no pain only if I open my mouth about enough for one finger. More than that is painful and I can't open it."
A specialist diagnosed him with arthritis of the jaw, he wrote.
"To tell the truth, I'm desperate about healing completely before the July 4 contest," he said, adding that he had begun receiving treatment at a hospital and from a chiropractor.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating, which sponsors the hot dog contest, reported that Kobayashi still plans to compete on July 4, but that they will stand by his resignation if it is officially offered.
"Eater safety is our top priority and we will respect whatever decision Kobayashi makes about participating in these events," said Richard Shea, the federation president.
On Tuesday, Kobayashi's United Food Fighters Organization said on its Web site that he has found a doctor he can trust and was "creating an environment in which he can dedicate himself to healing."
"The contest is coming up soon, and we'd happy if everyone kept him in their thoughts," the group wrote.