The Biggest Sports Event in Dallas Next Month: Major League Eaters Are Headed to Wingstop

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Maybe you've heard: Dallas is going to be crawling next month with fans, good-timin' party lovers and the elitest of the elite pro athletes the country has to offer.

Not Arlington. Dallas. Because Major League Eating is bringing reigning hot dog champ Joey Chestnut and a slate of other top competitive eaters to Victory Plaza on February 1 for its first-ever Wingstop wing eating championship.

It may not have the full blitz coverage from every g-d network in the world, and it may not have hilarious commercials about Danica Patrick removing her shirt. But it will have parking. Over the phone today from MLE's Manhattan headquarters, International Federation of Competitive Eating president George Shea says that where it counts, this winter classic compares very favorably to The Big Game down the Super Bowl highway.

"It is a big game," he concedes. "But this, I hate to say, is going to eclipse the Super Bowl in terms of drama, intrigue and emotional narrative."

Unlike contests in the peak of the eating season, like last fall's Lewisville tamale eating championship, this'll be the weekend's only IFOCE-sanctioned event, and registration just opened this afternoon for the event. Shea said he expects space for three to five local amateurs in a field of 10-15 eaters.

It's no mistake the league's coming to town just a week ahead of the Super Bowl, Shea says. "When you go to the big game party, there's a whole competitve element," Shea says. There may be football on the field, but at your buddy's apartment, huddled around the dip -- that's the real gridiron."

Of course, competitive wing eating has a long-standing tie to the Super Bowl -- for years, Philadelphia's Wing Bowl has been one of the biggest events on the sport's calendar. And while it's been years since that event had any ties to the IFOCE, the depraved scene is in some ways the truest expression of competitive eating's darker side.

Shea makes a point of describing the lengths to which he'll go to ensure a fair contest -- weighing the wings before and after the contest, not simply counting the bones -- and while he denied it was a comment specifically about Wing Bowl, he said the precision of the judging in Dallas next month will set this contest apart from "other wing eating contests."

While Shea was on the phone, I also asked him to address a question raised after I quoted his estimate that eaters would make $550,000 on the MLE circuit in 2010. A post on EatFeats.com pointed out that only $183,000 in prize money was accounted for on the league's results page. Today, Shea said eaters actually made closer to $600,000 on the circuit in endorsements, appearance fees and contest prizes combined -- including $218,000 to Chestnut alone.

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