By Ryan Petzar
Philly.com reporter Ryan Petzar is embedded in the Takeru Kobayashi entourage.
I expected Takeru Kobayashi, the co-favorite to win SportsRadio 94 WIP's Wing Bowl XX to be in a meditative, zen-like state before competing. I envisioned him focused on the task at hand.
In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. Kobi and his team are holed up in a private dressing room -- the visiting basketball team's locker room -- a luxury not afforded to any of the other competitors and it's almost as wild in here as it is outside on the floor of the arena.
He's dressed like a boxer; grey sweats and suede sneakers. It's a not-so subtle homage to Rocky Balboa from the first Rocky movie, but the spectacle surrounding Kobi is more in line with late-period Rocky movies. I expected James Brown to pop up and sing somewhere.
Media, entourage members, VIPs, and Wing Bowl staff are constantly flowing through the locker room and Kobi appears more than happy to meet-and-greet and glad-hand anybody and everybody.
As someone opens the door to leave the room, a chant of "Kobi sucks!" can be heard loud and clear from an entourage passing by outside. How does Kobi feel about the anti- Kobayashi sentiment from the other competitors?
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"It doesn't really matter because they're not going to win against me," he told me through his translator. "They'll be gone after the first round anyway," he adds with a laugh. Clearly, the Kobayashi that is concerned with his reputation isn't here today. This must be the "Other Kobi" he told me about.
"I'm not too humble today, " he joked.
What kind of reaction does he want to hear from the fans? "I'd like to have this huuuuuuuuuuuuge roar of the crowd from the audience," he admits, but he doesn't really mind what goes down.
"Either way, it's going to challenge me to do better. If they're cheering me, obviously that's going to pump me up to do the best. And if they boo me, I guess that'll just be even more of a challenge for me. Either way, I think it's going to be good," he says with a huge grin across his face.
A door opens on the other side of the locker room. Another VIP: Bernie Parent. You may have heard of him. Kobi bounces over. More handshakes and hugs. More cameras.
The great Kobayashi is in his element.