Matt Stonie loves what he does: eating ... a lot
He reflects on how he got here and where he's going next
Tiger Woods. Wayne Gretzky. Michael Jordan. Matt Stonie?
At 23, Stonie is on top of the world of competitive eating, vaulting past legend Joey Chestnut to take the No. 1 spot after besting his rival at the July 4 Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, New York.
While he may not be as well-known as sports legends like Woods, Gretzky or Jordan, he’s doing OK for a young man from San Jose, California, who has yet to finish college: He expects to bring in a six-figure salary this year and dominate his field for years to come.
Fresh off his latest victory – a world-record 241 chicken wings in 10 minutes at the Hooters Worldwide Wing Eating Championship in Clearwater Beach, Florida – Stonie took a few minutes out of tending to his stomach, and his growing social media empire, to talk with CNN about how he trains, why he does what he does and whether he thinks he’s the next legend in the field.
CNN: When did you discover you had a talent for competitive eating?
Matt Stonie: “There was a local eating contest, lobster. Free lobster rolls, and $1,000 if you wanted to cash out. I was in college. I was like, why not? Why not just try and compete in this contest? A ringer, a kind of semi-professional guy, showed up. I ended up beating him. I ate 24 to his 23½.”
CNN: Why do you keep doing it?
Stonie: “I’ve always been really competitive. I’ve always liked being a one-man team.”
CNN: What is it people like about this?
Stonie: “Food’s something everyone can relate to. Not everyone can relate to hitting a tennis ball back and forth. But everyone knows the feeling of going to Thanksgiving dinner and stuffing themselves.”
CNN: But what about the haters?
Stonie: “I think competitive eating does toe the line with a lot of people. Hunger is a big issue in the United States and around the world. What we do on the stage is gluttony. But whether I eat two hot dogs today or 60, it’s not going to make a difference anywhere else. Major League Eating does a lot for charity. I’ve generated a few thousand dollars for charity from my YouTube videos.”
CNN: Speaking of money, are you making a living off this?
Stonie: “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been able to make a living off this. Six figures this year.”
CNN: How much of that do you spend on training food?
Stonie: “Maybe $10,000. The IRS knows, because I write all of it off.”
CNN: What’s your favorite food to eat in an event?
Stonie: “I like the foods that take a little bit of work. Ice cream, chili, it’s like a drinking contest. I like contests where you have to work for it. Hot dogs. Chicken wings.”
CNN: What’s your least favorite?
Stonie: “Spicy. I did this contest once, tamales. They put jalapeno oil in the masa. So painful.”
CNN: How do you feel after an event?
Stonie: “A lot of it depends on whether you win or not. if you win, you feel a hundred times better. You feel a little uncomfortable, a little less flexible, a little bloated from the salt. Most of the time, you’re out of breath; you’re winded. You just did a 10-minute sprint. We’re professionals. We know what we’re doing. We have trained our bodies to be used to it.”
CNN: What does your doctor have to say about all of this?
Stonie: “Doing such an extreme thing to my body has forced me to take better care of it the other 90% of the time. I see my doctor two or three times a year. He loves it. He says I’m healthier than 95% of his patients.”
CNN: You’re now ranked No. 1. Your name is mentioned in the same sentence as renowned competitive eaters Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi. Are you the next legend?
Stonie: “Major League Eating pushed me to No. 1, but I think it was a little premature. Joey is a diehard competitor. Next year’s Nathan’s is going to be interesting. He’s going to step it up. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Joey and I are back and forth for a few years. But I’m going to be on top for a while after Joey’s gone.”
CNN: What’s next?
Stonie: “Japanese dumplings. I’ll start training tomorrow, maybe this weekend, sit down, figure out how many I can eat, what the technique is.”