Erik "The Red" Denmark Takes on Big Dogs at Nathan's Challenge in Tempe This Weekend

Categories: Events
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Major League Eating
Erik "The Red" Denmark

Erik "the Red" Denmark isn't one to back down from a challenge -- any challenge. A former golfer on Seattle's amateur circuit, Denmark turned his attention towards a less conventional sport in 2005 when he downed a boatload of chicken in a San Francisco wing-eating competition. "I really was just looking for something crazy to do," says Denmark. "I've never been into ordinary things, and I was feeling a little bit saucy so I started this. I've always been somebody who was willing to take any ridiculous challenge and complete it."

Six years later, he's ranked #7 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, aka Major League Eating (yes, there is such a thing). After winning the Phoenix qualifier of the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest for the past two years running, Denmark is headed back to the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe this Saturday, June 11, in hopes of keeping the "crown" away from another pro eater.

Denmark took some time out from his training schedule to chat with us this week, and had a lot to say about swallowing pig's feet and vomit, and other physical challenges of his unique sport: 

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Hello Turkey Toe via Flickr
Third place winner Patrick Bertoletti stuffs his mouth at the 2010 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Winging it: You could say I got my start in college with drinking contests and then moved up to hot sauce eating contests and then this.

My first contest I found online, and the contest was in 5 days. I went and placed 5th -- the top 5 made it to the finals in Boston. That was really the first time I ate for capacity and I was pretty happy that I was able to qualify for the finals. Once I had some success there and I liked it, I didn't ever question it after that.

What prompted the change from golfing to grub? I was looking for something a little bit more bizarre and less expensive. Not that competitive eating is cheap. It's actually probably more expensive than golf if you don't win money. There are probably 10-15 people in America who don't lose money in competitive eating. 

Is eating your full-time job? It's my life job; it just doesn't pay me that well. I like to say that I have a part-time job and a full-time hobby.

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Major League Eating
The big dogs at last year's nationals at Coney Island.

Competitive eating isn't a sport that you retire on. You can't be number 20 and make any money at it. If you're the 20th ranked golfer in the world, you're making millions of dollars. But not with this. You need to have a backup plan.

Is there an eating challenge you wouldn't tackle? There's really nothing I wouldn't do. Maybe raw testicles, I guess...

Squealing with (anything but) delight: There was a contest in Jersey that was supposed to be a pickled pigs feet contest. For whatever reason, the pickled pigs feet supplier didn't come through for them last-minute. It was pretty shabby. The pigs' feet were just cut off the pigs and put on ice and sent over to us.

How gross was that? They didn't taste that bad; it was more of the mental image of an actual foot with knuckles on it and a little bit of hair. There were only four eaters who were willing to show up for that contest. It was pretty brutal.

On the dreaded "Reversal of Fortune": I've never actually thrown up at a contest or stopped a contest. I've thrown up in my mouth at almost every contest, but you swallow it because it's just par for the course.

The closest I ever came was a jalapeño eating contest in New Mexico. I got to about 100 jalapenos in nine minutes and decided to stand up. When I stood up, the jalapeno juices just shot like rocket through my esophagus and into my mouth. I had to cover my mouth with my hand. It ended up just streaming out of my nose.

Later on that night, when we were sitting in the hotel room, we were watching the news and the one bit they showed as a teaser for the contest was jalapeño juice streaming out of my nose.

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