NEW YORK – They stood toe to toe, eye to eye, and — most importantly — jaw to injured jaw. Six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi, still unable to open his mouth wide enough for a typical teeth cleaning, joined favorite Joey Chestnut at a Tuesday weigh-in before their Fourth of July hot-dog-eating showdown in Coney Island.
The Japanese title holder declared himself ready to gorge, dismissing suggestions by skeptics that his stiff jaw was nothing more than hot dog head games aimed at rattling world record holder Chestnut.
"I don't care what they think," the 29-year-old said through an interpreter. "I just want to battle tomorrow."
Since going public with his ailment last month, Kobayashi underwent treatment by a specialist and a chiropractor. Event organizers said he also had a wisdom tooth extracted June 26 to relieve what they described as "jaw-thritis."
The slender Kobayashi weighed in at 154 pounds. Chestnut, 23, came in at 215 pounds and added his voice to those unsure what to expect from the champion. "Kobayashi is the underdog," he said, "and he's claiming an illness."
The two are among 17 contestants preparing for Wednesday's eat-off, where the winner must consume the most HDBs — hot dogs and buns. Last month, Chestnut eclipsed Kobayashi's mark of 53 1/2 in 12 minutes by inhaling 59 1/2.
Urged by photographers to open wide on Tuesday, Kobayashi displayed less than a full range of mandible motion.
That could be good news for Chestnut, who's favored to end Kobayashi's record run as holder of the mustard yellow belt presented each Fourth of July outside Nathan's Famous. Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced the pair before they stepped on the scales and engaged in a staredown at City Hall Park.
"Many times ... in the annals of sports, the eyes of the world have turned to our great city to watch worthy adversaries square off," said Bloomberg, tongue in cheek. "What comes to mind is Ali and Frazier, the Yankees and the Mets, the Post and the Daily News."
And, this year, Kobayashi and Chestnut.