It's become predictable: each year Joey "Jaws" Chestnut reigns at the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, scooping up the first-place trophy, mustard-yellow winner's girdle and the $10,000 prize.
Chestnut, 29, nabbed first place last year by downing 61 hot dogs in 10 minutes. The year before, though, he managed to swallow 69. Could the master masticator finally be slowing down?
Matt Stonie, 23 -- the No. 2 ranked eater in the world (Chestnut is No. 1) sure hopes so.
"Every time I step my game up, he steps his up," said Stonie, "but Joey has been off his game this year."
"I've had a very good year so far. We've only competed once (in a Greek gyro gorge in Houston) and I destroyed him," downing 24 gyros to Chestnut's 21, Stonie said.
At the annual contest Saturday in Coney Island, women will compete at 11 a.m., followed by the men at noon.
If ever there was a year for Stonie to grab that title from Chestnut, who has held on to it ever since beating Takeru Kobayashi in 2007, "this is the year," Stonie said.
Stonie has set world records in eating Twinkies, birthday cake, bacon, gyros, pumpkin pie and pepperoni rolls, among other food stuffs, but the Nathan's contest, he said, is the big burrito.
The Coney Island contest "is the Super Bowl of competitive eating," standing alone both in prize money and prestige, attracting 40,000 spectators and millions of viewers on ESPN, he noted.
Stonie lives a few minutes away from Chestnut in San Jose, California.
The two are friendly "off season," when competitive eating contests are sparse in mid-winter, occasionally even catching a movie together, Stonie said. But once bacon binge and flauta fest season gears up, they distance themselves from each other and morph into polite, equally determined individual competitors.
Chestnut "gets the older crowd -- the 30 year olds," as fans, Stonie said, while his supporters often skew younger.
While Stonie hopes to take the men's title, Miki Sudo, 29, of Las Vegas, hopes to hold on to hers.
"She has her off years and off moments, but as far as sheer ability goes," Sudo is the 125-pound. gorilla, said Stonie, who is betting on Sudo to claim the $10,000 women's purse.
Sudo acknowledged that coming is as reigning champion "is a completely different level of pressure. Last year, I knew I'd win," but this year "I'm expected to win and I haven't been practicing," as much as she'd like, due to job and family responsibilities.
Sudo, who is ranked fourth in the world and is the only female in competitive eating's top quartet, was slurping on ice pops after cramming -- literally -- in preparation last weekend for her Saturday dogfight.
Sudo feels there may one day be a triumphant "Battle of the Sexes" moment in competitive eating not unlike Sept. 20, 1973 when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis.
"Men don't have an absolute advantage," said Sudo, who plans Saturday to "set a lead out of the gate and keep it going."
In one area, however, female competitive eaters are different. They sometimes attract attention from men who, apparently, just love seeing women stuff food in their mouths expressing opinions that seem more salty than supportive on social media.
"Men are people with all sorts of unique interests and eating is one of them," Sudo said diplomatically. When it comes to professional gluttony, "I guess there is a subset of people who find it -- I'll just say, intriguing."