Joey Chestnut laid a headlock on the animal rights protester who stormed the stage during Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest because he didn’t want to drop the franks in his hands, he told The Post Tuesday.
In an interview the day after he inhaled 63 hot dogs at the annual Fourth of July competition in Coney Island, the winner recalled feeling “confused” when he spotted the “crazy kid” in a Darth Vader mask.
“I was just confused. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought someone fell into me at first. He moved more in front of me. It just happened really quick,” said Chestnut, 38, who snagged his 15th win Monday.
The competitive eater explained his decision to handle the 21-year-old demonstrator, who was hoisting a sign that read, “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar,” in a reported protest of Nathan’s pork supplier.
“When he got in front of me… I didn’t know if he was gonna attack me. There was a little bit of panic, and that’s why I grabbed him, and I wasn’t sure — I didn’t know how it was all gonna play out,” he told The Post.
“I kind of grabbed him, then he fell, and I was able to go back to eating, and I was really relieved that it didn’t take that long,” Chestnut said. “The whole incident wasn’t that long. I think it was a total of like, four seconds.”
Asked why he put the interloper in a headlock rather than employing a more gentle tactic like a shove, Chestnut said plainly, “If I pushed him, I would have dropped the hot dogs in my hands.”
“I had limited use of my hands. I’m pretty sure I had something [in both hands]either a bun or a hot dog,” he continued.
The 6-foot-1, more than 235-pound professional scarfer soon realized the disruptor presented no danger.
“When he ran into me and I saw him, I freaked out for a second, but as soon as I grabbed him, I realized he was very small, and the way he fell to the ground, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s pretty much a kid,’” Chestnut said. “There was an initial shock. It all turned out OK. He wasn’t really a threat. It was just a crazy kid.”
The elite eater—who on Friday showed up to his official weigh-in on crutches and competed Monday in a medical boot—said he didn’t relish laying the headlock on the protester.
“I did feel a little bit bad,” he said. “It was just an unfortunate situation.”
The lightning-fast maneuver had never been practiced in a formal setting. The self-described “band nerd” has never wrestled competitively in high schools nor had he practiced martial arts, he told The Post.
“Just three brothers,” Chestnut quipped. “We all wrestled as kids.”
When asked if he thought the demonstrator would stop his scarfing down of dogs, Chestnut replied, “For a split second.”
“I didn’t know what he was doing,” he continued. “After he got out of the way, I was thinking about my rhythm, and if I could get into eating fast, and I was able to. It didn’t affect me too much. I was able to keep going.”
The perennial chomping champ and California native said he enjoyed the 2022 competition, despite the bizarre disruption.
“It was a great day, it was great to be back on Coney Island eating,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to next year.”