Hot Diggity Dog: Denver's Mongo Marquez joined the big leagues at Nathan's on July 4

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The Fourth of July may have meant fireworks and beer for you, but for nineteen lucky competitors, the big day signified only one thing: hot dogs.

Out on Coney Island, New York, on the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, the winners of Nathan's hot dog eating qualifiers around the country lined up to try to out-eat the best of them, namely Takeru Kobayashi and the reigning champ, Joey Chestnut.

Well, ostensibly that's why they were there, though most of the eaters ate less than half the winning amount, a staggering 68 hot dogs and buns by Chestnut.

Denver's competitive-eating hopeful, Marco "Mongo" Marquez, who ate thirty dogs in a qualifier last month, was only able to put away 23 in New York, placing him sixteenth overall, but he says the experience is one he'll never forget. Westword's Liz Kellermeyer caught up with Marquez to chat about his weekend in the big leagues.

Westword (Liz Kellermeyer): How was it meeting all the professional eaters? Anyone in particular you were excited to finally meet?

Marco Marquez: It was a huge accomplishment for me to finally make it to Coney Island. I want to say thanks to all of the people who supported me and believed in me. It was an experience that I will never forget...I would have to say that it was an honor to finally meet Takeru [Kobayashi]. He is a stand-up guy who has contributed so much to the sport...I also wanted to make sure that I included the best competitive eater of all time -- Joey Chestnut. I have known Joey for a few years now, and he is one of the most humble, down-to-earth people I have ever met. He is a great competitor, sportsman, and friend.

WW: What was different about the experience than you were expecting?

MM: Before the Fourth of July, the biggest competition I had ever done was Wing Bowl. The Pepsi Center holds about 18,000 people. At the Nathan's finals there were over 40,000 fans cheering us on, not to mention the millions of viewers that were watching on ESPN. There are no words that can express the feelings that were going through me as I walked on the stage. Not less than three weeks ago, competitive eating was a sport and a hobby that I really enjoyed. Today, competitive eating means so much more. It is a passion and a love that I can't see myself ever giving up.

WW: How did it feel to finally be on the big stage?

MM: I ate less in the finals then I did in both of my qualifiers. I believe that the pressure of being on stage in front of millions of people and eating against the best competitors in the world played a large role in my [hot dog] count...The contest was very structured and systematic due to it being on live television. The eaters had to be at certain places at certain times -- there were coordinators running around, interviews happening. It was very fast paced, and it was hard for me to get into the mental state that I am normally in before a competition.

WW: Do you have plans to return next year or take on any other national competitions?

MM: I fully intend to dedicate myself to being one of the best Major League Eaters in the circuit. 2009 was about personal fulfillment and dedication to making it to Nathan's. 2010 will be about branding my name in the history of competitive eating.

WW: What's next?

MM: I will definitely be hitting the 2010 Nathan's circuit hard, but until then I will be training for the 2009 Krystal Square Off championship.

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