At just 5 feet tall and 105 pounds, Sonya Thomas hardly looks the part of a woman who could down 181 chicken wings in 12 minutes, and set a new world record, no less.
But that's what the Alexandria, Va., chicken wing eating legend did Sunday as she wowed the crowd and won her fourth consecutive Chicken Wing Eating Championship during the ninth annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.
Thomas' performance against 12 professional eaters took center stage in a showdown that played out between her and world-class eater Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who most recently won his fourth straight victory in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating competition at Coney Island.
Thomas, 43, nicknamed the "Black Widow," set a new world record by besting her 12-minute record set at the 2005 wing festival, when she ate 174 wings. Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., holds the 30-minute record after consuming 241 wings in 2008.
Even though Thomas took the lead early on, many festival-goers who braved Sunday's windy and chilly weather felt it was down to the wire between Chestnut and Thomas.
Chestnut, weighing 230 pounds and standing 6 feet 2 inches tall, nailed second place after devouring 169 wings.
"I am so happy. I knew I had a good chance, but I didn't know if I could beat him," said Thomas, sporting a baseball hat, jeans and a pink sweater that only bore a slight stain of orange wing sauce on her right sleeve.
Her secret to victory? "I try not to chew too much because my jaw gets tired, so I drink water to lubricate," she said.
Elma resident Barbara Schaffstall watched Thomas closely.
"She was the smallest and a woman, and kept the food close to her mouth and took few sips of water," she said. "I think the men were disgusting. She was actually quite neat."
Several on-lookers begged for autographs and pictures with her. Chestnut drew his share of fans and autograph seekers, as well.
Wearing his sponsor's Pepto-Bismol shirt and plaid shorts, Chestnut acknowledged he "was No. 2 today" and credited Thomas as a master of timed wing eating.
"She's an amazing wing eater," he said. "I beat her in wings a couple of times, but I knew she'd do well. She gets into a vicious rhythm. This 100-pound woman pushes herself hard. She's half my size. Her little hands were all over those wings."
The chicken wing eating frenzy played out on a stage in the far outfield at Coca-Cola Field and footage of the competitors chowing down their wings at breakneck speed dominated the large Bisons screen for the crowd to watch.
East Aurora resident Santina Horning agreed it could be a disgusting event to observe, and yet she and her husband and friends were drawn to it.
"She's this tiny little thing and nails everybody every year. I love it," Horning said.
Her husband, Charles, stood nearby and was loudly rooting for Chestnut. "He's the No. 1 male. You can't have a woman stealing the chicken wing eating crown from a man. Come on," he said.
Behind Chestnut, were third-place finisher Bryan Beard with 87 wings, followed by Eric Badlands Booker who snagged fourth place with 83 wings.
Festival founder Drew Cerza said the success of Wing Fest rests on Buffalo and its great love for the chicken wing.
"The magic is the love of the chicken wing and the spirit of Western New York," said Cerza, a Buffalo native.
The weekend's cool, windy weather dampened the turnout -- particularly Saturday -- but "not the spirit" of the festival, Cerza said. "It was still great. People who may have been scared off Saturday came Sunday," he said.
Organizers were still tallying the weekend crowd total Sunday evening, and said they would not have figures to release until probably today.