Joey Chestnut says he “felt bad” putting a chokehold on “kids” protesters during the hot dog-eating contest

Joey Chestnut isn’t pleased with how he handled a surprising incident at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Chestnut – who earned his 15th mustard belt at the long-running competition on Monday – says he “felt bad” for putting a chokehold on a protester who stormed the stage midway through the competition.

“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid,” Chestnut said in an interview with USA Today Sports’ Josh Peter. “I felt sick afterwards. I was just excited, just focused on eating again.”

“It’s just a shame. I wish it hadn’t happened. It’s a bummer,” he added.

During Chestnut’s final appearance at the championship, three protesters from animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere stormed the stage while the titan competitor devoured his 18th hot dog.

While wearing “Star Wars” masks and holding up signs that read “Smithfield’s Death Star Reveal,” the activists crashed the event protest Smithfield Foods – the pork supplier for Nathan’s Famous.

One of the protesters wearing a Darth Vader mask pushed Chestnut from his position before flashing his sign to the crowd.

Chestnut, who was already injured and using crutches because of a torn tendon in his leg, when he arrived at the event that day, responded by putting a choke hold on the protester and throwing him to the ground.

As if nothing had happened, Chestnut immediately continued eating his sausages after disabling the hidden disruptor. The trio of protesters were removed by security forces.

The protester who Chestnut grabbed has been identified as 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson of Berkeley, California. He has since been charged with criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to USA Today.

The outlet also spoke to Gilbertson, who said he didn’t realize at the moment that Chestnut administered the choke hold, which he called “unnecessary.”

“I assumed it was a security guard,” he said. “And then when I saw the video, it was Joey. I was surprised.”

Gilbertson said he “poked” Chestnut and understood why he might have reacted that way.

Chestnut told USA Today that although the altercation looked “exaggerated,” he responded the way he did because the protester was masked.

“I was a little freaked out because he had the mask on,” Chestnut said. “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized he doesn’t belong here.”

“It looks overdone,” he added. “But in my position, I don’t know, I’ve been waiting for the competition for a long time and I wish [Gilbertson] would have just stood next to me and I would never have touched him.”

The other two protesters involved — Robert Yamada of Phoenix and Joshua Marxen of Santa Clara, California — have also been charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, according to authorities.

The New York-born fast-food chain had previously come under fire from Direct Action Everywhere for alleged workplace safety, public health and animal welfare concerns.

As for the award-winning hot dog enthusiast, Chestnut said the incident prevented him from devouring about three other hot dogs in competition.

Still, he was crowned champion after quickly eating 63 hot dogs and buns, just 15.5 more than runner-up Geoffrey Esper.

The highly anticipated Nathan’s Famous Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place on July 4th each year in Coney Island, New York.

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