"I am the two-time chicken wing world champion. I am number one."
So declares 98-pound competitive eater Sonya Thomas, who has indeed reigned as chicken wing queen for two years straight, setting world records and twice defeating America's top eater, Joey Chestnut, at the National Buffalo Wing-Eating Competition.
And this year there's a new chicken wing contest to conquer. On Friday, the eve of the 16th Annual Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant, an official qualifier for the Hooters World Wing-Eating Championship will take place at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach at 7 p.m. The winner of the Miami qualifier will advance to the final round in July, the month that includes National Chicken Wing Day.
Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas qualified for the finals at the tour's kickoff in Augusta, Georgia, but was disappointed in her numbers (a mere 140 wings in ten minutes -- come on, girl, step it up!), so she's coming to Miami to stand her ground at a special exhibition round and check out the competition.
So how does Thomas, who weighs less than 100 pounds and ranks as the number six competitive eater in the world, possibly consume 183 chicken wings in 12 minutes (her world record)?
"You don't need a big body for chicken wings," Thomas says simply. "I have quick hands. I have a strong mind. And I don't like to lose."
It's hard to imagine the small-framed, Korean-born American girl chowing down on Hooters wings among men five times her size, but Thomas revels in the challenge.
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"Boy or girl, I don't care," she says. "Sometimes I get a group of men saying, 'A woman cannot do this.' But I show them: 'I beat you guys!'"
The size of Thomas's stomach is slightly larger than normal, according to her website, but her small build is said to be an advantage in the competitive food world, as it allows her stomach to more readily expand. Her performances back up her claims: She holds records in more than 25 eating competitions.
Joey Chestnut, the world's top eater, will be in attendance at the qualifier this weekend and is expected to down more than 150 wings and be a shoo-in for the championship in New York.
And the smack-talk Thomas has for her biggest rival? "He has class; he's a real gentlemen," she says. "But this is a sport -- there's only one winner. Someone has to lose, and it's not going to be me."