The nationally televised Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest on July 4 took an unexpected, romantic turn when defending champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut proposed to long-time girlfriend Neslie Ricasa on stage moments before the competition.
The annual glutton-fest at Coney Island, N.Y., which has been covered as a sporting event by ESPN since 2003, is typically a stomach-turning display of extreme consumption by the world’s most accomplished eaters.
But, just before Chestnut was set to do battle, he interrupted the on-stage interview that master of ceremonies George Shea was conducting with Chestnut’s long-time girlfriend, Neslie Ricasa. With a microphone in hand, Chestnut went down on one knee and proposed to Ricasa in front of the Coney Island revelers, and one million viewers on ESPN.
Visibly nervous, Chestnut struggled with his proposal: “It’s been the best three years of my life and I can’t live without you. You make me better. Would you marry me?”
Despite the high-profile surprise, Ricasa didn’t hesitate with her answer. “Yes!” she exclaimed into the microphone.
Chestnut slipped a beautiful solitaire diamond ring onto her finger and the two embraced. But there was still work to be done.
Taking advantage of the adrenalin rush generated by the engagement proposal, the #1 ranked competitive eater fought off a strong challenge by Matt Stonie and won the competition by downing 61 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes. Although Chestnut failed to break his own record of 69 hotdogs, this was his seventh defense of the Nathan’s title.
Ricasa was not only thrilled by her fiancé’s victory and the surprise proposal, but she also loved her new engagement ring. She tweeted a close-up view of her patriotic manicure and bejeweled left hand with the caption, “the best 4th ever! so much love from so many people, thank you all so much! i love you @joeyjaws!”
The ring features a large round center diamond on a dainty diamond band.
Chestnut went home with some bling of his own — a jewel-encrusted, mustard-colored championship belt. He also won the prize money, estimated to be between $10,000 and $20,000.
“The proposal went great,” Chestnut declared. “She said ‘yes,’ and I’m a happy guy all around.”
Besides his well-documented hotdog eating skills, the 225-pound, 6-foot-tall Chestnut has competitively consumed bratwurst, chicken wings, boiled eggs, corned beef sandwiches, pizza, shrimp wantons, burritos, hamburgers, matzo balls, and the list goes on.