The showdown was brief, but not exactly pretty.
A coney-scarfing contest all but shut down American Coney Island in downtown Detroit. There was a small mob of spectators, half-joking insults between contestants and generally raucous and free-wheeling behavior.
The main focus of the evening: a match between Detroit Police and the Fire Department. Five members of each group would eat their way toward a collective total, and the proceeds would go toward the winners’ Benevolent Fund.
Just before the contest began, it was clear that some contestants had come prepared. Police Lt. Michael Nied brought his “Endless Shrimp” champion belt, which was from a Red Lobster eat-off where he took down more than 230 shrimp, four biscuits, and a piece of cheesecake in celebration when it was clear that he had won.
Matt Holowicki of Plymouth is handed the belt after
Matt Holowicki of Plymouth is handed the belt after winning the American Coney Island Coney Eating Contest on Thursday September 3, 2015 after beating his record to eat 19 coney dogs in 10 minutes. Participants had to finish the whole coney that included hot dog, bun, chili, mustard and onions. (Photo: Ryan Garza)
He also came wearing a neon T-shirt that read, “Warning: you could go blind from my pure awesomeness.”
When the teams sat down, firefighter Capt. Chris Dixon began spreading mustard right beneath his eyes like war paint, and dousing himself with bottled water. Beside him, firefighter Desmond Orr placed a small towel over his head.
Detroit Fire Department Captain Chris Dixon splashesBuy Photo
Detroit Fire Department Captain Chris Dixon splashes water on his face while competing with other members of the Detroit Fire Department against members of the Detroit Police Department during the American Coney Island Coney Dog Eating Challenge on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, at the American Coney Island in downtown Detroit (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
The wide platters of coneys arrived, while spectators cheered. The coneys were followed by small black puke buckets.
And then, suddenly, the contest was on. More than 60 spectators clamored to get a good view in what little space was left over while a deejay blared the song “Bad Boys,” the theme song to the TV show “Cops.”
Nied established an early strong showing, but then almost before it began, the contest was up. Someone shouted, “Drop the weapon!” – referring to the coneys.
After the tally, the winner was clear: Detroit Police, with 24 dogs total.
Nied said he was disappointed the contest hadn’t gone on longer, because he was ready to take down 20 dogs if necessary.
Dixon, on the other hand, was reeling from the loss.
“It was agony,” he said. “The pain of losing to the cops was unbelievable.”
The event wasn’t over, though. The night’s most extreme eaters were civilians.
The crowd poured out into the street outside the restaurant, where long tables were set up and where the reigning champion, Matt Holowicki of Plymouth, was back, looking to top his previous record of 17 ¾ coneys.
But DeSean “Whip Dog” Whipple of Detroit, who won the contest in 2012 and 2013, was determined to make a comeback. He even promised to retire if he didn’t win. He said he had been drinking a huge amount of water and had been cleansing his stomach.
“I’m getting my title back,” he vowed.
As the contestants began their messy work, the soundtrack included Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Very early into the 10-minute race, Whip Dog was in trouble. He had only eaten three or four coneys while Holowicki, taking a wide stance in a “Punisher” T-shirt, had ruthlessly torn through an entire row of 10 dogs and was rounding the corner into double digits. He was either dripping with sweat, or dripping with the bottled water he had poured all over himself, or both.
In a slightly bizarre twist, Rick Mahorn, the former member of the Pistons, was at the event and leaned on the table in front of Whip Dog before saying, “You’re weak! You’re weak!” It appeared to be a bit of motivational reverse-psychology. (He later told a reporter that he did not know Whip Dog personally.)
When the 10 minutes had elapsed, Holowicki was the winner. But the crowd then shouted out the final seconds in the one-minute window, during which Holowicki was not allowed to throw up if he wanted to keep the title. He stood up and shifted side to side, visibly in pain.
But then, the timer ran out. Holowicki survived the torment of his own stomach after wolfing down 19.5 coneys. He ascended a raised stage that had jutted out onto Lafayette Boulevard to claim the championship belt.
When an organizer asked how he was feeling, he said into the microphone, “It’s sweet. It’s very sweet.”
And when a reporter asked Whip Dog if he would retire, he shouted, “2016! That’s all I gotta say.”
Contact Daniel Bethencourt: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4531. Follow on Twitter at @_dbethencourt.
Detroit Free Press, September 3, 2015