'Mushmouth' Mariano Pacetti, Cleveland's Pizza-Eating Legend

Ralph DiMatteo

Mushmouth Mariano Pacetti

Raise your hand if you ever spent a Friday night at home growing up in Cleveland watching either The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show, or what it evolved into: Big Chuck and Lil' John. Just what I thought - almost everyone.

That said, in addition to looking forward to the awful movies they would put forward, we would also look forward to the hilarious skits at commercial breaks. Some were one-offs, new each week, while others were recurring characters or events. One that comes to mind is Cleveland’s pizza-eating champion, “Mushmouth” Mariano Pacetti.

The “Pizza Fight” was a weekly event on the show, and Pacetti arguably became the face of the event as he was able to dispatch all challengers by what could best be described as shoveling whole slices of pizza into his mouth so rapidly as not to be believed.

Pacetti quickly embraced his overnight fame by wearing a shirt and a cape into the studio, much like a boxer entering the ring. He was proud of being Italian, trash-talked before trash-talking was a thing and was seemingly unbeatable until...

Mushmouth ran into a buzzsaw when a challenge was brought forth by Chris “The Fairview Fireball,” a German Shepard who took down a fully-loaded medium pizza in less than 30 seconds.

Promotion by Channel 8 was heavy throughout their broadcasts in the days leading up to the event, and it was estimated that over two million people tuned to watch the takedown of Cleveland’s pizza-eating legend.

What is not as widely known about Pacetti is the fact that he was also a very accomplished musician in his own right as well as being a musical educator. Pacetti passed away at his home in Newnan, Georgia in 2021 at the age of 67.

He had pretty much retired from competitive eating, except we did uncover a reference to one time when his band was playing a gig at a local college sometime in the '90s and there was also a pizza-eating contest on the bill that evening with a cool $100 on the line. Egged on by his bandmates, Mushmouth made a return to the arena one last time to, as he said, "make things messy” and walk away with the $100.

We hear every year about the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest that one Joey Chestnut has dominated. So we can only wonder what level of fame Mariano “Mushmouth” Pacetti would have achieved if the media resources were available to him as they are today for guys like Chestnut. 

Most definitely a debate worth having.

(Image source: WJW-TV 8 archives)

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