July 2, 2008 -- A former world champion is traveling from Tokyo to Brooklyn this week, with his eyes on a new record.
The destination is Coney Island, the competition is hot dog eating, and the fighter is six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi.
"This year's competition feels almost new to me," said Kobayashi, who won Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest from 2001 to 2006 -- a record-winning streak.
"I do not have any pressure of continuing my winning streak,"Kobayashi, 30, told ABC News prior to his departure to the United States. "I can start with a clean slate."
Kobayashi lost the champion's belt in 2007 to U.S. competitor Joey Chestnut, who set a new world record by gobbling 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Kobayashi ended in second place, although he surpassed his personal record by chowing down 63 hot dogs.
The five-foot-seven, 165-pound Kobayashi is not only a world record holder with his streak of wins, he also changed the sport of competitive hot dog eating.
In 2001, when he won his first championship, he ate 50 hot dogs, nearly doubling the previous record of 25 and an eighth. He has since won endorsement deals from companies making everything from beer to credit cards.
The year 2007 was a significant one for Kobayashi.
He lost his mother in March. Then, less than two weeks before the 2007 contest, Kobayashi wrote in his blog that he had been diagnosed with arthritis of the jaw.
"I was simply not able to open my mouth," he said. "I did not know if I wanted to or if I could compete last year. But being upfront about the condition of my jaw gave me a push to move forward."
Kobayashi said he had no "regrets" about the results of last year's contest.
"I competed last year in an extremely tense situation emotionally and physically," he said. "I wanted to renew my record with a seventh consecutive victory, I wanted to dedicate that victory to my mother, I wanted to thank all who supported me and cheered for me along the way by winning the contest. I was carrying a lot on my shoulders."
Upon returning to Japan, Kobayashi kept seeking medical treatment and advice for his jaw.
In the early stage of the treatment, Kobayashi said he was unsure about his future.
"What I wanted was my old jaw," said Kobayashi, who continues to receive medical treatment.
"That idea of wanting something I could not have haunted me all last year and the early part of this year. I feared what could happen to me if my jaw would not work how it used to work."
Kobayashi said his outlook started to change as he tried to see his condition in a different light.
"I was proud of my power and speed but those ended up hurting my jaw," said Kobayashi, adding, "I just have to come up with a different form of training and competing style to work with the jaw I have now. I can still compete."
Kobayashi said he is not likely to compete in his famous "Solomon method," where he splits the wiener in half, scarfing down both parts at once, then dipping the buns in liquids such as water and 7-UP and swallows them.
Although Kobayashi did not share the details of his new training, he said he now has new competing styles to compensate for his jaw.
"Last year's incident gave me the courage to revamp my training method," he said. "I should look at this as a good opportunity and challenge."
Another challenge that awaits Kobayashi is the new competing time.
The eaters will now have to finish all their hot dogs and buns within the new limit of 10 minutes –- shaving two minutes off the eating clock.
This may hit Kobayashi hard because one of his specialties was a burst of fast eating at the end of the contest. "Picking up the pace at the end, especially in the last two minutes, was something I was really good at," he said.
On the other hand, a shorter competition may put less strain on his jaw.
One motivating factor for Kobayashi remains the roar of the crowds. He said they helped carry him through last year's competition.
"Although I was not in first place, the audience cheered for me and told me to come back next year, which made me cry," Kobayashi said. "I never cried after I won a competition. That was a surreal moment for me."
Kobayashi also has in mind what might be some surreal moments for his American competitors.
Asked if he could choose any kind of food for another competition, Kobayashi was quick with his answer.
"Since I competed eating hot dogs -- a traditional American food -- I want to see how my American fellow fighters would do with sushi."