On Friday February 3, 2013, many of the world’s top competitive eaters and wing enthusiasts will gather at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the 21st annual Wing Bowl. Hosted by Philadelphia sports radio station 94 WIP, it’s one of the biggest wing-eating contests anywhere, routinely drawing crowds in excess of the 20,000 people. As the tagline boasts, “We’re legal.”
While the event itself is always among the top spectacles in the world of competitive eating, this year’s competition may not carry the same cachet as years past with all-time great and world record holder Takeru Kobayashi not partaking in the festivities. Last year, Kobayashi nearly lapped the competition in breaking the world record, eating 337 wings in his first ever Wing Bowl appearance. The previous record had been held by Philadelphia native Jonathan “Super” Squibb, who in 2011 ate 255 wings.
Squibb, a three-time winner, and 2012 runner-up, is expected to add another notch in his belt this year, with the field essentially cleared for him. There is one major question. Can he top the 300-wing mark? Last year he set a personal best by eating 271 wings. Squibb recognizes that the world record is likely out of reach, but he still believes he’s capable of eating 300 wings.
“Last year taught me that I have more to do to get better,” Squibb told CBS Philly. “I want to break into the Kobayashi threshold. He’s human, just like me. There has to be a way to get there… It’s convinced me that I have to put more work into this.”
Most of the other contestants in this competition are new to eating at events of this scale. They gained entry to this year’s Wing Bowl by either completing an eating stunt on air (competitive eating legend Joey Chestnut once drank a gallon of milk in five minutes) or winning a local Wingoff.
That doesn’t, however, take away from Wing Bowl as a whole, which has crowned many notable champions besides Kobayashi, including Joey Chestnut (three-time winner), Sonya “The Black Widow Thomas (2004) and Bill “El Wingador” Simmons (5-time winner). And then there’s the whole crazy spectacle of it all.
The truth is, though, eaters like the Ukraine Train, who once ate two Philly cheese steaks in 85 seconds, and Large Todd, who once ate 94 wings in 14 minutes, won’t seriously contend with Squibb. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot at stake here for the assumed winner.
Squibb, much like the event, has come a long way. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008 that any eater topped the 200-wing mark. This year he looks to exceed his 2009 first-place finish (203 wings, 2009) and join Kobayashi in the 300 club. And that storyline alone is enough to carry this event.