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Posted at 04:54 PM ET, 08/17/2007

Competitive Pizza Eating Comes Back to Greenbelt

Somewhat amazingly, the news that Dmitri Young's son Damon "Damage" Young has sprouted a mohawk turns out only to be the second-most important D.C. sports mohawk news of the week. The most important, of course, is the pending arrival of Patrick Bertoletti, the famously be-mohawked professional eater currently ranked third in the country by Major League Eating. He'll be in town this weekend to defend his title at Saturday's second-annual World Pizza Eating Championship at Three Brothers Pizza in Greenbelt; "the biggest sporting event in Washington, D.C. history," as Major League Eating spokesman Ryan Nerz described it.

Last year, you'll remember, Bertoletti and his mohawk downed 19 slices of traditional New York-style Neopolitan cheese pizza in 10 minutes, easily staving off Chip Simpson, who finished with 16.5 slices. I talked with Simpson--a 25-year-old physical therapist currently living in Birmingham, Ala. and ranked sixth in MLE--and he explained that he was done in last year by a miserable start.

"Really I just tried to swallow too much too fast," he told me. "I had so much in my mouth I had a hard time getting rid of that, and then by that time Pat was ahead of me and I couldn't catch up. I took the wrong approach at the very beginning of the contest, and it ended up costing me."

See, eating pizza fast is quite different than some of the eating contests you might be more familiar with. For one thing, you're not allowed to dip the pizza into water, so you need to be prepared for more frequent pauses to drink and a much more strenuous mastication activity.

"Pizza, I know my jaw is going to be tired at the end," said Simpson, the 2006 U.S. Buffalo wing eating champion and the world record holder in six-inch sausage sandwiches.

"That makes it a little bit harder, but I kind of like it that way," Bertoletti agreed. "I don't think you should ever dunk pizza in water. I just like pizza too much; I would probably never eat it again if I ate it that way."

Also, mashing up that many crusts that quickly can do a number on the eaters' chewing parts, depending on their experience and liquid consumption.

"Guys will actually describe mouth and esophageal injuries," noted Nerz, the MLE spokesman. "They also have that same problem in the canoli contest."

I'm sure they do, although both eaters I talked to dismissed such concerns. Anyhow, last year the Three Brothers agreed a pizza eating contest would be a proper way to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and the contest was such a success that they figured it might as well be an every-year occurrence. There will be 14 competitors in Saturday's $4,000 pro division contest, which will start at 3 p.m. and will include more than 50 16-inch pies. The pies will be freshly made, but kept at room temperature. Last year, contestants were permitted to skip the crusts, costing themselves one full slice with every four crusts they ignored, but this year that rule has been stricken. The field is swell; in addition to the aforementioned, we're expecting MLE No. 7 "Humble" Bob Shoudt, plus two local women, No. 5 Sonya Thomas and No. 10 Juliet Lee.

But the headliner is the 22-year-old Bertoletti, a Chicagoan who just graduated from culinary school. The pizza contest was one of his first big wins, and this is his first major title defense; he's aiming for between 24 and 32 slices. And he's already had a busy summer, winning peanut-butter-and-jelly, blueberry pie, shoofly pie and strawberry shortcake competitions. As for the hair, he only spikes it up to full height before eating competitions; kind of a pre-game ritual, he told me.

"People don't know me, they might just know the Mohawk and they gravitate towards that," he told me. "It's something that separates me from looking completely normal."

A major, major hat tip to Red Sox Monster, which alerted me about this budding competition, and also pointed me to this write-up from True Fan and the video highlights of last year's contest, which follow.

By  |  04:54 PM ET, 08/17/2007

Categories:  Weirdness

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