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‘Badlands Booker’ stays hungry, focused

After twelve years of competing in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, Springfield Gardens resident, Eric “Badlands” Booker is still hungry for more.

After eating 30 hot dogs and buns at last year’s Coney Island challenge, Booker is seeking to best his previous total.

“I think I’m going to do better than I did last year,” said Booker, predicting 40 plus. “Competitive eating is 90 percent mental. You can have all the tools. You can have the capacity and stamina. But if your mind is not right, the body won’t follow. You have to be hungry and focused.”

Before he picks up any hot dogs, he will pick up the microphone and rock the party for tens of thousands of fans expected. The release of his fifth album, “Surf and Stillwell” – the cross streets of the original Nathan’s Hot Dog stand – is set for competition day, July 4, when Booker will perform some new tracks.

“I live for this. I love performing and drawing energy from the crowd. Put the mic in my hand with a hot beat and I’m home.”

As a year-round fan favorite, Badlands can be found in the crowd, signing autographs and taking pictures before it’s time to start rapping. He has no problem in front of large crowds.

“They show me so much love, how could I have stage fright?” he asked.

A father of three and full-time No. 7 train conductor, Booker, 40, is no stranger to the fame being a competitive eater – and being featured on the show “Wife Swap” – has brought him.

“People recognize me all the time. I’m hard to miss,” he said.

The most recognizable figure in all of competitive eating and six-time Nathan’s champion, Takeru Kobayashi announced on June 29 that he would not be competing this year, reportedly because of a contract dispute.

“I was upset to learn he wasn’t going to be there. Kobayashi is a great dude and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s a legend. Before Kobayashi came, there were only a few contests. [Competitive eating] is a sport because of him. I just hope everything works out,” said Booker.

Whether or not a zero-hour contract can be worked out for Kobayashi, Badlands Booker maintains his hunger and focus.

“I love the Nathans Hot Dog Contest. It’s the hardest one out and most prestigious in the world.”

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