BUFFALO, N.Y. — ​Ronnie Hartman has a unique origin story for a world-class competitive eater.

The hungriest man in Buffalo has never struggled to put away large quantities of food, but he never considered this line of work until he was given an impromptu challenge by Army cooks on his base.

What You Need To Know

  • Buffalo's "Megabyte" Ronnie Hartman returns to the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th at Coney Island

  • Hartman, an IT professional and professional wrestler, is the 18th-ranked competitive eater in the world, per Major League Eating

  • Hartman began his competitive eating career after serving on an Army base in Afghanistan

"They set up a contest one day, with five pounds of chicken chili," he says of his time in Afghanistan. "It was me, and they found another guy to go against me. They just wanted to see what I could do. I finished the five pounds of chicken chili in like six or seven minutes. The other guy threw up halfway through it. It was pretty clear, from that moment forward, that that’s what I was meant to do."
Competitive eating is generally broken down into two categories — capacity food (like five pounds of chili) is Ronnie's strength, while technique food (like hot dogs) are a work in progress.

"They’re the Super Bowl of our sport, so to speak. If you want to do this, you’ve gotta be good at hot dogs," he says. "It took me a long time to get good at hot dogs. I’m not even that good as I want to be."

Despite Hartman's modesty, he was a top-10 finisher in his last trip to Coney Island. He competed in the 2019 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, scarfing down 30 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. While he was 41 dogs and buns shy of the winner, Joey Chestnut, he still put together a respectable performance.

He knows there's work ahead of him in the next few weeks. During a recent training session, Hartman ate 23 hot dogs and buns in about eight minutes. He wasn't eating at competition speed, because nobody was around who knew the Heimlich maneuver. 

"To be a week in, preparing for that, and to get 23 down in eight minutes, I would say pretty good," he says. "I definitely have a busy month in front me, but this is a good starting point, for sure."

Despite downing nearly 6,000 calories, Hartman says he still has room for more food — a steak dinner.