A Quick Hit for May Brewdiligence: Break Me Off Some of That Funky Stuff

May is going to be about yeast. Without yeast, there is no beer. The ales and lagers that dominate our drinking are but two varieties. This month I’ll do my damnedest to seek out the others.

That’s it. No mantra, no screed, no hashtag. Just the on-going quest for knowledge.

Now go drink.

NoIPApril: 30 Days With No IPAs


This month I am encouraging everyone to join me in 30 days of IPA-free drinking. Let all those who see my words heed the call and take part in the first annual NoIPApril. Want to participate? It’s easy. Simply drink other styles of beer for the entirety of April.*

Why? IPAs have simply become too easy. They’re easy to find, they’re easy to drink, they’re easy to select. Walk into any bar, brewery, or taproom and you are sure to find one; more often than not you’l have several iterations to choose from. For general purposes I take no issue with this. They’re big and tasty and can encompass a wide range of flavor profiles. But they have also become the de facto choice for craft beer enthusiast across the country. While I celebrate the search for a beer containing enough hops to pull the teeth out of your head, a month off will be a marvelous thing.

Moreover, it will reaffirm why you started drinking craft beer in the first place: the choices. After cutting your teeth on fizzy yellow lawnmower beers, the craft beer movement showed that you can get a buzz on and discover something completely new. Realizing beer could taste like something other than Budweiser was profound and it drove the hunt for evermore new taste sensations. So this month, rather than scanning menus and boards for the IPA with the highest ABV or a clever name, eschew them altogether. Pick a style you normally wouldn’t. Branch the fuck out. Give your overwhelmed palate a break and use this opportunity to embrace subtlety and nuance. Seek out some Old World Styles. Try that blonde you’ve been ignoring. Delve into different yeast strains and get into Belgians, Bretts or some kind of mixed fermentation brews. There is so much beer out there that isn’t loaded with lupulin, and every bit as delicious. You just have to open yourself up to it.

Times might get tough during NoIPApril and you’ll likely find yourself needing a piney, resinous hit of the good stuff. Fear not! This doesn’t require you to forsake hops altogether, merely one particular vehicle for them. Need to feed that IBU addicted monkey on your back? Get a hop-forward pale ale. A hoppy wheat. A hoppy red, a hoppy amber, and so on. Hops are plentiful in enough other styles of beer that even in IPA’s absence you can get your fix.

Think you like IPAs now? Wait until you’ve given them up for thirty days. Come May 1 you’ll find yourself embraced in their loving, bitter arms once again, and your relationship will be that much stronger as a result. That time you bought a shelf-turd with faded, muddied flavors? All in the past! Remember when you opened that ill-advised 11% triple IPA bomber at the end of the night and woke up wanting to die? Forgotten! The two of you now have the rest of the year to become reacquainted and grow to love each other even more. If you love something, let it go they say, despite the uncertainty of its return. No worries here. You know exactly when IPAs will be back.

We all love IPAs. It is the craft beer style of choice and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. And I’m not here to encourage such a thing. But the other shoe is always waiting to drop. Tastes will change, styles will come in and out of favor. Sooner or later brewers will move on and something else will occupy 8 out of 12 taps you have to choose from. Start preparing now. Open your heart and mouth to something new. The possibilities are endless, but to experience them you might need to close the door on something else, if only for a month.

So join me, friends, and say no to IPAs. The sacrifice will be great and so to will the rewards.

*As with any rule, there are exceptions. If you need to taste IPAs for work, go right ahead. If you are at a festival, indulge. Come across something rare? Don’t pass on the opportunity to try it. If someone who doesn’t know about NoIPApril buys you a nice hoppy DIPA, drink it; good brewdiligence doesn’t mean you have be to rude. Beyond those circumstances, however, once you’ve read this you are bound by blood to comply with the month’s restrictions. Harsh penalties will be levied on anyone found in violation of the rules.

Failure In Brewdiligence Leads to Unwitting Patriotism

Depending on how you look at it, March’s Brewdiligence was either a total flop, or a rousing success.

The explicit goal of this year long project was to pick a theme for each month and stick to it as assiduously as possible. March was supposed to be about European beer of all styles. I wanted to explorer the Old World one pint at a time. I knew going in there would be challenges: access, freshness, lack of familiarity, and cost.

How much the place I live would dictate the month’s research was not something I factored in to this. I have lived in San Francisco for going on four years, but by no stretch do I feel myself to be a part of this city. It’s too dense, there is too much going on, and too many people have been here far longer than I. But just because I am not of this place does not mean it hasn’t effected me. Like many here, I tend not to leave my own neighborhood, let alone the city. Driving somewhere is almost a laughable notion at this point.

I could have walked to my neighborhood Safeway, which, in spite of its negligible cleanliness and inept staff, does have a respectable beer selection. Said selection, though, is not what anyone would describe as continental. They have Duvel, Chimay, and some six packs of Pilsner Urquell, but beyond those it’s mostly domestic beer on the shelves. Also within walking distance of my house is a decent bottle shop. Their variety of European beers outshines Safeway’s, but the prices are high, and many of the bottles are discernibly old. I don’t sling that tech-money like so many in San Francisco do, so I can’t afford to roll the dice on a $15 bottle that is past its prime.

What this amounted to was a month long internal conflict where I constantly prodded myself to either drop money I shouldn’t or to get in my car and drive to the BevMo in Daly City. “Do you want to try some German lagers?” I’d ask myself. “ Are you committed to this, ya piece of shit? There aren’t any farmhouse ales on at the pizza place down the street. Get off your ass!” Followed by, “You know that $15 might buy you groceries at the end of the month, right? You know you’ll waste a bunch of gas driving to BevMo and end up buying way too much, right? You know this whole thing is stupid and it’s just beer, right?” It was an ugly cycle that fueled self-loathing and doubt, and one I repeated several times a week.

Needless to say, I didn’t fall in love with Belgian yeast or discover stumble on to an exquisite French sour. And in that respect, my plan to get Eurotrashed was just shy of an abject failure.

The bright side to falling short of my goals was realizing how committed I am to American craft beer. I am a straight up, dyed in the wool, diehard patriot in that regard.: these grains, hops, and yeast don’t run. It became very apparent to me early on in the month that I would much rather go to a local taproom and try some of whatever is fresh, and made by hand of a person in my own community, than I would to seek out some Euro-fetish pub bent on serving a stale version of whatever brew is consumed in the providence they are aping, or be reduced to scouring shelves of dust-crusted imports in hopes of finding that one gem no one outside of Alsace has heard of.

Given this, my mission for the month took something of a turn. Rather than a quest for European beers, I was on the hunt for European inspired beers. I went to my regular stops and ordered the Belgians I typically forego. I drug myself across town to a place I shall not name, that leans heavily on the Old World for its offerings (it also bills itself as being “malt forward”, yet more taps were IPAs than any other style). I forced down dubbels and tripels and golden ales, and let the fruity esters wash over me.

I got deep into the euro-inspiration one Saturday and had a pint of gruit, a traditional herbal ale that doesn’t contain any hops. Gruit is a combination of various herbs; which herbs were found in the mixture is a bit unclear, but from the research I have done, sweet gale/bog myrtle was a constant. Gruits were standard fare in northern Europe before hops became the additive of choice and today they are pretty uncommon. A few places in the Bay Area make something touted as gruit, but without the requisite bog myrtle, I’m calling spice on that. Those are herbal ales, not gruits. This is not a controversy that has the beer community embroiled in some battle over stylistic definitions, but it’s a conversation I’d like to see started. Expect more on gruits in a future article.

As is the case with a lot of life, sometimes in brewdiligence you miss the mark. Though my aim in drinking all European beers for the month of March was off, I hit on a brand of patriotism in American craft beer I didn’t know I had. And that is what this is all about: learning something new, even if by accident, and always with a good beer by my side.

Former Boxing Champ Pascal Piles on to the Ignorance and Homophobia

Former boxing champ Jean Pascal jumped on the ignorant, homophobic train many in his sport seem to be aboard, when earlier this week he gave an interview calling out UFC star Nick Diaz.

In the video, Pascal says he would fight Diaz in the octagon, but under boxing rules. He goes on to say that UFC fighters “claim they can box. But I don’t see that,” before following up with the now tired, and not so subtly homophonic aspersion that too many boxers levy against ground fighting: I don’t get on the ground with other men.


“To go on the ground with another man, it’s not my thing. I’d rather to go on the ground with a woman.” he said, laughing. “I’m a fighter,” he continued. “I’m not a UFC wrestler….boxing, it’s art.”

The homophobia laced throughout, coupled with his willful lack of knowledge about grappling and insistence that real fighting takes place on the feet is as offensive as is the public’s continued tolerance of such drivel.

If one’s personal preference is for stand up fighting, that is fine. However, it is incumbent on the combat sports community to stop allowing the “grappling is gay” trope to be an acceptable thing. To say grappling is not an art, or not a “fight” is one thing; statements of that kind only demonstrate how clueless the person holding such an opinion is. But when we allow people to imply they don’t grapple because it is somehow gay, is to be permissive of a level of homophobia that has no place in 2017.

Diaz, a long time fan favorite, has yet to take a fight since serving a suspension for marijuana use. In spite of the lack of activity, there is no shortage of potential opponents. He has been called out by UFC Welterweight Champion Tryone Woodley, along with a number of UFC fighters seeking out their own “money fight,” which Diaz is perceived to be.

Pascal’s call out is further evidence of the Stockton native’s drawing power, and the depth to which  escalating talk of a super fight between Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather has penetrated both sports.

To paint the entire boxing community as homophobic because of comments like Pascal’s would be as closed minded as his belief grappling is gay. I’m certain there are plenty within the boxing world who respect it as a fighting art. I’m equally certain there are people in MMA with less than tolerant views on same-sex relationships; they just don’t express that by decrying ground fighting. Neither fact absolves either sport from taking responsibility for policing this kind of hate-speak.

It’s time to start calling these people out the way they are calling each other out for these much sought after money fights. We cannot respond to their subtlety with our own. They should be put on blast, their fear and ignorance hyped up like pre-fight trash talk. Don’t be scared, homie. Let’s hit these creeps where they live.


More Bad Beer History

Yesterday this nonsense was posted on a beer-related Instgram account that nearly18,000 people follow: “The word ‘toast,’ meaning a wish of good health, started in ancient Rome, where a piece of toasted bread was dropped into wine.” What a load of tripe.

While there might be an etymological connection from the latin torrere, to parch, there is no clear connection between a Roman tradition of adding bread to wine and the word “toast” being used in the afore mentioned way.

Bread and wine were staple foods in the ancient world and as such, likely made for decent bed fellows. There is no fundamental objection to saying the two went together in some combination. However, Romans added a lot of things to their wine: water, honey, various herbs and spices. Bread was likely among that list of things, but if you do any amount of reading on the subject you’ll find numerous additives far more common than bread.

What little substantiation there is to be found on the matter indicates that the charcoal on toasted bread was a means of dulling off flavors in wine, like some kind of pre-modern Brita Filter, or that it was meant to cut wine’s acidity. Neither claim about bread’s ability to perform those tasks can be rejected out of hand, but the addition of water was a more likely way of cutting acidity, as was honey and herbs to cover off flavors. Moreover, any historical precedent given as evidence for this to be true cites customs from the 1700s rather than those from classical antiquity.

The word toast (both the food and the action) might well be derived from the original latin verb. But to indicate there is a straight line between that word, and a Roman tradition of adding bread to wine becoming a metonym for honoring someone or something before a drink is a gross oversimplification of things. Rarely is history so linear.

If that were the case, wedding speeches would all started something like this: “I’d like to propose a combination of water and honey and maybe a few herbs? Is that coriander or hyssop? I can’t tell. Anyway, I’ve known Jim for a long time now…”

Here’s to keeping bad history out of beer.

Floyd Mayweather’s Fear and Ignorance on Full Display

While a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Connor McGregor has yet to materialize, the war of words is ratcheting up. Mayweather called the UFC star a “punk” and a “bitch” in his most recent interview suggesting McGregor doesn’t actually want to make it happen, citing the Irishman’s high asking price as a means of bidding himself out of the fight.

“At one particular time I had to be the B-side. When they brought the money to the table I took it, kicked ass and became the A-side.” Maywaether continued, “Come kick my ass and become the A-side.” This is likely a fair estimation of the situation. McGregor is going to have to settle for significantly less money than Mayweather if he really wants to see this bout come to fruition.

The boxing star’s business savvy and in-ring smarts are not a matter of question at this point, but contained within the rest of his interview are some disturbing remarks that had nothing to do with deal making or fight IQ.

Mayweather stated, “Real men fight standing up. I’m from [the] old school. I’m not going to kick my shoes off, I’m not going to be between no man’s legs wrestling on the ground. I’m going to stand up and kick ass.”

While that very well might come true, Mayweather’s assertion about how “real men” fight, along with his disavowal of being between another man’s legs on the ground contain a good deal of implicit homophobia and the acknowledgement that outside of his preferred skill-set, Floyd does not have a prayer of beating McGregor.

By stating that real men fight standing up, Floyd is attempting to emasculate anyone who chooses to practice ground fighting. Proclaiming that he won’t be on the ground between another man’s legs is, whether he’ll admit it or not, to say that doing so is to be homosexual. In essence, he has called McGregor weak and gay, two things which, in and of themselves are not qualities that should be used against a person, but which Mayweather clearly believes to be the source of great insult. 

The root of this attitude is a deeper issue than I am qualified to address, but there needs to be a conversation started about how much longer we can justify not calling out those who espouse this kind of fear and ignorance. From promoter Bob Arum, to Floyd, to well regarded statesmen of the sport like Bernard Hopkins, the sentiment that MMA and grappling are gay is wide spread.

For Floyd, or any other boxer to single out grappling as gay because it takes place on the floor and often with one combatant’s legs wrapped around the other’s torso is to ignore the fact that boxers spend time in the clinch, essentially sweaty, shirtless hugging. Both are defensive tactics, but to many a pugilists mind, wrapping your limbs around another man in order to avoid damage is not gay, provided the action remain vertical.

As far as being a “real man” is concerned, let us not ignore Mayweather’s well documented history of domestic abuse. This is a person who has done jail time for beating women. Where he suggests that “real men” fight standing up, many others might argue that real men do not hit women, a notion clearly lost on the guy we used to call Pretty Boy.

Though the fight game lacks for certainties, it’s almost scientific fact that in a mixed rules fight a pure striker is fucked. Everyone who is paying attention knowns this, including Floyd; enter the “real man” talk as a means to bolster his ego. “Yeah, he’d beat me if we rolled around like a couple gay dudes, but I fight like a real man.” It’s easier to dismiss something than it is to admit you can be beat by it. It’s also why you’ll never see Floyd in the UFC and what makes Connor’s attempt to step inside the ring so compelling. He would go in a huge underdog, but when the likely outcome of him losing a decision did occur, McGregor would hold a trump card: “I stepped into your world and took it to you. Are you man enough to step into mine?”

The call would be answered by crickets, accompanied by he sound of Floyd off in the distance, hammering a huge check like it was his wife’s head. 

A real man indeed.

Getting Euro-Trashed: Your March Brewdiligence


With Strong Beer Month and SF Beer Week now behind me, I am moving on to an new theme. With St. Patrick’s day coming, March is a good time to focus on European beers. Doing just Irish beers, however, seemed a little too on the nose. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of Guinness on the 17th, but to spend a whole month on beers from the Emerald Isle would also be very limiting; there is more to Irish brewing than just Guinness, but the amount of it accessible to me is, in all likelihood, relatively small. Moreover, I’ve had the ones that are easily found. Murphy’s, Beamish, Smithwick’s, etc. All fine beers, but the overwhelming goal of this is to experience as many new beers/styles as I can. Going back to revisit those might be fun, but the thought of it is not one I welcome as much as searching out the unknown.

To ensure a broader array of beers is available to me, March had to be opened up to the greater European continent. Doing so significantly increases the odds I’ll discover something new. Beyond Irish beers I hope to get my hands on some English Ales, German lagers, and whatever oddball selections I might come across. I suspect, however, that most of what I drink will hale from Belgium, or at least contain Belgian yeast. I’ve had a contentious relationship with that strain and its confounding esters for some time now. Our day of reckoning has come.

There was a time when spending a month on the hunt for European import beers would have been something of a luxury. Years ago, when American macros ruled the roost, buying a few cans of Guinness or a sixer of Heineken was to treat oneself; if it wasn’t American it was good. Whether or not this was ever really the case is debatable, but in the current market, it’s the furthest thing from the truth. Fans of American Craft Beer have been spoiled rotten in the last decade as store shelves everywhere are hemorrhaging with well made product. Good beer, often made locally, is just not hard to find.

One problem I’ll be confronted with is an issue of freshness. A few styles and high ABV stuff aside, most beer should be consumed as quickly as possible. It does not take long for flavors to fade, or worse, morph into something undesirable. The time it takes to ship a beer from a brewery across the Atlantic, get it on to store shelves, and then into the customers hands, is quite often, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. And that is if the beer is purchased immediately, never mind time spent languishing in a retail outlet waiting for some adventurous soul to scoop it up. So in addition looking for styles and breweries I am unfamiliar with, I run the risk of getting a product that is beyond the peak of its flavor, and not a good representation of the beer in question.

Another potential hurdle will be availability. As stated previously, quality craft beer of the domestic variety is no rare commodity. I can walk to any number of stores and get a reliably good six pack of something. Even the Safeway nearest me, dumpster fire that it is, has a robust selection. This isn’t the case with imports; beyond all those green bottles that used to indicate quality, there is a serious disparity in international beer representation. Names like Chimay and Duvel are everywhere, but outside of specialty shops I’m not likely to find much else. And at over $12 a bomber, there is likely to be some adjusting to the price as well.

Perhaps more than anything, I’ll have to negotiate the fact I’m a big, stupid American accustomed to drinking big, stupid American beers. State-side we scream for hops. For higher ABV. Making a coffee stout? It’d better be stronger than my morning java. This is not to say subtlety is completely lost here, but as is generally the case in everything American, even in beer more is better. The Old World is typically…European on that account. Their beer is more subdued, more respect given to tradition. My taste buds have been ravished by the huge character found in most American craft beer. Finding flavor in the more understated European beers will be my biggest test.

Brewdiligence is a fraught business to be in. For those who take up the challenge, glory is fleeting, evanescent as the head on a well poured pint. Few people will herald the effort, even fewer will answer the call. Anyone on this journey with me knows there is no prize at the end of the line. In fact, there is no end of the line at. There is only the journey and the places you allow it to take you.

Ferment Drink Repeat: Brewing Beer and Community


“How do you make a small fortune in brewing?” It’s early on a Saturday afternoon and Kevin Inglin, brewer of San Francisco’s Ferment Drink Repeat is holding court over a small crowd of people gathered for his Beer Appreciation class, part of SF Beer Week. Inglin looks around the room for a moment, eyes wide, and cracks a friendly grin before answering his own question. “You start with a large fortune.”

Over the next 90 minutes, Inglin, who owns the brewery along with his wife Shae, will take students on a journey through the world of beer, covering the basics of its history, its ingredients, the process of making beer, beer judging, and more. All this, in addition to sampling nine of FDR’s signature brews. It’s part education, part inebriation, and all centered around building a more knowledgeable community of beer drinkers.

Those in attendance agree with a woman, who, when asked why she attended a Beer Appreciation course replied, “the crowds at educational events tend to be less…drunk.” Inglin’s class consists of home brewers, staff from local bars, curious beer-geek types, and local residents. What they will all know after completing the course—in addition to the difference between lager and ale yeasts— is that a visit to Ferment Drink Repeat is an essential stop on the city’s brewery circuit.

Even if it’s beer school, it’s still school. I came prepared.

Located in San Francisco’s Portola District, on the northern most stretch of San Bruno Avenue, FDR opened last June as part of a diverse, often overlooked neighborhood; it lacks the tech-money cool of SOMA, or the tech-money, warehouse-turned-shabby-chic-eatery-industrial vibe of the Dogpatch. In spite of that, foot traffic is plentiful this sunny Saturday. The sidewalks are alive with people shopping in local produce markets, or looking for something exotic from a spice wholesaler. Others out for an early lunch can choose from cuisines of all stripes: Chinese, Vietnamese, traditional southern food, American, Mexican, and more. Though craft breweries are no longer a rare find, the inclusion of one in this neighborhood comes as a welcome bit of depth to the already mixed enclave.

The people you’ll find drinking in Ferment Drink Repeat’s taproom often live within a few minutes of its doors You’ll not find only bearded guys in Ommegang hats and Insert Brewery Name Here Hoodies who’ve come to the hip part of town, amped to line up for an IPA  can release. The Inglins have forged a community based not on the quest for hops and barrel aged sours, but based on proximity. They’re a local brewery serving those most local to the brewery.

Shae Inglin can most often be found behind the bar pouring beers for thirsty customers, many of whom she knows by name. She engages with patrons comfortably and with the familiarity of an old friend. The atmosphere she fosters is convivial and charming. People bring in food from one of the many neighborhood restaurants to enjoy with their beers. Other sit at the bar playing cards or boardgames over a couple pints. Whether your first time or fiftieth, to walk in the doors of FDR is to join a family.

This welcoming, communal culture is woven into the very fabric of Ferment Drink Repeat. Not having one of those large fortunes Kevin joked about to bankroll opening a brewery, the Inglins chose to crowd-source funds for their venture, utilizing crowbrewed.com., a website much like GoFundMe but dedicated to helping fledgling beer companies get off the ground. By pledging a certain amount of money, investors could get various rewards, from t-shirts and home brewing classes, to free beer for life, or the ultimate prize: being allowed to create and brew a batch of beer at FDR.

Not only did this crowd sourcing provide an immediate sense of connection for those who contributed to the successful campaign, but it has resulted in some of FDR’s tastiest beers, like El Unicorno Mexican White Stout. When a CrowdBrewed supporter came and suggested something resembling a pumpkin spiced beer, Kevin rejected the idea, not wanting brew something so common place. Working together, the two created a recipe that satisfied the patron’s desire for a spiced beer, while avoiding autumn seasonal-beer cliches. The resulting beverage is a wonder; light in color like a pale ale, but with the dark, warm flavors of a stout. Subtle hints of chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, and chiles run throughout but do not overwhelm.

Running a small brewery gives Ferment Drink Repeat the latitude to experiment with flavors and ingredients. Where larger production facilities need to play it safe lest they lose money on a bad batch of new beer, the Inglins are not so heavily restrained; their seven barrel brewing system cuts the potential for loss. With that fear allayed, creativity can flourish. A smoked imperial lager for instance, or a hibiscus tea flavored saison are two more of the unique creations collaborations with financial backers have yielded.

Brewer and Owner Kevin Inglin leading a tour of the brewhouse at Ferment Drink Repeat.

Not everything, however, is a far flung flavor experiment. Plenty of well balanced, true to style beers can be found on tap, from IPAs and pilsners, to stouts and porters, FDR has beer to accommodate everyone. Their Portola Pilsner is a great bridge for people new to craft beer. It has the familiarity of classic American macro-brews, but with elevated flavors that should intrigue and entice even the most dyed in the wool Budweiser fan.

For those who’ve developed at taste for craft beer, either by way of time bellied-up to the bar or via Kevin’s Beer Appreciation class, Ferment Drink Repeat is also a home-brew supply shop. Their roots being in home-brewing, the Inglins are committed to helping the next generation by stocking their store with everything aspiring brewers might need to try their hand a creating fermentable magic at home.

FDR the president is quoted as saying, “Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” FDR the brewery echoes that sentiment. The Inglins haven’t gone about their business in a traditional way, nor are they attempting to take over the industry. But they have built a community to be proud of, while being to be true to themselves and their neighborhood, letting principles lead the way, and guiding customers along a similar path.

A Closer Look at TUF 25: Redmption


The latest season of The Ultimate Fighter show is underway in Las Vegas.  The 25th  installment will pit bantamweight champion Cody Garbrant against former champion and ex-teammate TJ Dillishaw, in a coaching match-up that will likely garner as many on screen dramatics as their July title tilt promises.

The full roster was released earlier this week. Titled “Redmption,” the cast is made up of TUF veterans, including two former winners, and one who is currently on the UFC roster.

The fighters are a rangy lot in terms of experience, success, and size. Jesse Taylor and Joe “Big Daddy” Stevenson each have nearly 50 professional bouts to their name and have competed for world titles. Hader Hassan comes with just 9 fights under his belt and losses in both of his UFC appearances. Ditto for Mehdi Bahgdad.

Big Daddy Stevenson also highlights the size disparity we will witness in TUF 25. The show is slated to take place at 170 pounds, but Stevenson, who won the show at that weight, has competed as low was featherweight. Hector Urbina has fought as high as 205, as has former TUF winner Eddie “Truck” Gordon. One has to immediately wonder if making weight will be an issue for the larger fighters, while dealing with the size of some opponents will be an issue for the smaller cast members.

Age and mileage might also play a factor this season as well. The theme of redemption eliminates the TUF’s normal search for young, unknown talent, but at an average age of nearly 32 years old, some of these fighters are a bit long in the tooth. Age is not kind to fighters, and outside of the renaissance we’ve seen in some heavyweights careers recently, mid-tier middleweights don’t often find that same kind of second wind. Skill sets can see improvement well beyond an athlete’s physical prime, but we need to maintain realistic expectations for the show’s victor.

TUF has witnessed its share of long-shot winners, but as usual, the playing field can be narrowed down to a few likely candidates. Whatever the outcome, light beer and hollow-core doors should tread carefully for the next little while. Neither has ever been safe when the ultimate prize  is on the line. For now, let’s take a look at the contestants.

Jesse Taylor- (30-15) Age: 33

Taylor has gone 24-12 since lone UFC appearance. Had he not fought a limousine window right after leaving the TUF house and lost his spot in the finale, Taylor had a strong chance at winning the show. He has been active since then, facing notable competition in the likes of Luke Rockhold, Jay Hieron, and David Branch, and has wins over TUF season three winner Kendall Grove as well as current UFC middleweight Chris Camozzi. A true middleweight, at 6’1” Taylor will be one of the bigger competitors, which should give him an advantage. But with 14 of his 15 losses coming by submission, one has to wonder if he can make it through the tournament without getting caught.   

Joe Stevenson- (33-16) Age: 34

Every good story has an emotional center, and Stevenson is likely to be it for TUF 25. Winner of  season two and long time fan favorite, Big Daddy saw his best days as a lightweight where he challenged BJ Penn for the 155 pound strap. He is 2-2 since last fighting for the UFC in 2011 and has only two fights after a three year lay off. His opponents in those have a combined record of 23-45, making an assessment of his current fighting abilities difficult. A dominant grapplers whose hands never really caught up with the rest of his skills, Stevenson is a natural lightweight and will suffer a significant size disadvantage if not given the right match-ups. Fighting a bigger man is nothing new to him, having started taking professional fights while still a teenager, but the game has changed; skill used to make up a size deficit, but the playing field has evened out and size does matter. Given his experience, it would not be a surprise to see him get through a fight or two if pitted against the other smaller fighters, but he’ll likely run into a wall with the bigger men. 

Gilbert Smith- (12-6) Age: 35

Smith is 7-4 since losing his one proper bout in the UFC and currently on a two fight skid. “Chocolate Thunder” or “Midnight Madness” (depending on which website you consult) is a tough grappler, and as I recall from his original run on TUF, an all around good guy. Unfortunately Smith has never been able to string enough wins together over quality opposition to make a serious run an breaking back in to the ranks of the UFC, though he did hold an RFA belt for a time. He may not go far on the show, but look for him to be the voice of reason in the house and a team leader.

Julian Lane- (11-6) Age: 29

“Let me bang Bro! Let me Bang!” The drunk cry heard ‘round the MMA world. Lane’s antics on season 16 have become the stuff of legend, second only to Junie Browning lunacy. One would almost feel sorry for him had he not shown up looking like a caricature of an MMA fighter, compete with bad tattoos, pink mohawk, and sunglasses worn inside. He’s gone 7-5-1 since TUF 16, and lost to the only real name fighter he faced in Paul Felder. Lane has also struggled against bigger men, a fact that will limit his success in this run. Redemption won’t come for him by way of winning the show, but with a solid performance or two, and by avoiding any of the craziness that plagued him last time out, Lane has a shot to come away redeemed.

Eddie Gordon- (8-4) Age: 33

TUF Season 19 winner, Gordon dropped three straight after being victorious on the finale. Those included a highlight reel head kick KO to a resurgent Josh Samman, a split decision loss, and a submission at the hands BJJ World Champion Antonio Carlos Jr. Dropping a trifecta of fights is almost always a precursor to walking papers, but Gordon shouldn’t be judged too harshly. People get caught, with both strikes and submissions. At total of twelve fights, Gordon is relatively green for this group, but the lack of mileage might play into his favor, as should his size and strength. The Truck won his lone fight since leaving the UFC and though there are no guarantees, Gordon should go into the show a favorite, potentially becoming the first two-time TUF winner.

Dhiego Lima- (12-5) Age: 28

Lima is a well rounded fighter, but has not found the level of success that has graced his brother Douglas. He is 2-1 since leaving the UFC, dropping his most recent fight via TKO. Lima made it to the final of season 19, doing so at 185 pounds when he is a natural welterweight. That experience against larger opponents, combined with the fact he won’t have to manage his weight so carefully as others, could play into Lima’s favor this time around. Making it through at least the first round of competition is a good possibility, and the prospect of another Lima vs. Gordon finale would be very fitting given the theme of redemption.

James Krause- (23-7) Age: 30

Krause’s inclusion here is odd, given the fact he is already on the UFC roster, is 4-3 in the promotion, and has won his last two fights. Though the TUF Live alumnus has not stepped in the cage since February of 2016, one has to wonder what his existing contract is like for Krause to put himself in the TUF grinder again, and at a weight class above where he usually fights. 30 fights gives Krause plenty of experience, and he should have a sizable bag of tricks to pull from, but his chances here aren’t great. Come what may, Krause should get more fights in the promotion beyond this show.

Mehdi Baghdad- (11-5) Age: 31

Another natural lightweight who as fought as low as 145 pounds, The Sultan’s prospects here are not kingly. Baghdad dropped both of his UFC bouts after his appearance on TUF 22 and  was dropped from the promotion after pulling out of a fight in October 2016 with an injury. Another fighter whose size will be a liability, Baghdad’s inclusion seems to be almost an apology from the typically cold-blooded UFC for cutting him when he was injured.

Justin Edwards- (8-5) Age: 34

After losing his lone fight on TUF 13, Edwards managed to stick around the ranks of the UFC for four years. He wasn’t the most active fighter on the roster in that time, averaging just one fight a year before losing three in a row and being cut. The majority of his fights have come at welterweight, so he should be comfortable there, but his loss to 170 pound monsters like Brandon Thatch speak once again to the difficulty in overcoming a size deficit. He dropped two subsequent fights at lightweight, including one to TUF 25 cast-mate Ramsey Nijem (there’s that potential redemption again), and has not taken a fight since June of 2015. Inactivity and being paired against more skilled fighters should create an early exit for Edwards.

Seth Baczynsky- (19-14) Age: 35

At 35 years old and with 34 fights behind him, The Polish Pistol’s odds of winning the show are narrowed by his mileage. He had notable wins over the likes of Tim Means, Matt Brown, and Neil Magney, but lost a very close decision to Thiago Alves, and came up short in his next two outings before being cut. That said, Baczynsky is a gamer and will be on the bigger side of the competitors, two things that should make him a factor on the show. He is 1-1 since leaving the UFC in 2015, the loss coming to Jesse Taylor. Once more redemption rears its head.

Hector Urbina- (17-10) Age: 29

Urbina turned pro at just 19 years of age and wasted no time stepping into the deep end of the pool, facing the likes of Tim Kennedy, Mayhem Miller, and Lyman Good. If you can say anything about El Toro, it’s that he will take on all comers. Sadly, that’s maybe the best that can be said about Urbina. His willingness to trade and get in wild exchanges leave him susceptible to getting knocked out; his fight with Bartosz Fabinski demonstrated an inability to negate superior wrestling skills. Though it’s not for lack of heart, Urbina’s chances of winning the competition are slim.

Ramsey Nijem- (9-6) Age: 29

Fighting out of John Hacklmans’ The Pit, Nijem is a strong grappler who found some measure of success in the UFC after losing his TUF finale bout to Tony Ferguson. Ramsey was able to stick around the UFC for a few years afterwards, putting three wins together to begin his run, before the slide that led to him being cut in 2015. He is still young and has not accrued the amount of damage that other contestants have. The time off since being cut might have done him some good and helped him shore up holes in his game. At at 5’11”, the 170 weight limit should also suit him better than some of the others who usually compete at lightweight. Not a favorite by any means, but if there is a dark horse pick, I think Nijem is it.

Hayder Hassan- (6-3) Age: 34

A big puncher who rightly earned his nickname “The Hulk” on TUF by fighting three times in 17 days, leaving no question about his heart or his desire to get in the cage and mix it up. Hassan was picked to fight in the camp vs. camp finale, losing by second round submission. HIs next bout, a rematch against Vicente Luque who he was victorious against on the show also ended via submission and he has not fought since. His power and willingness to engage make him a dangerous opponent, but unless his submission defense has tightened up in the time away,  Hassan’s shot at making the final isn’t good.

Tom Gallicchio- (19-9) Age: 30

The hirsute Gallicchio is dangerous on the ground, with 13 of his 19 career victories coming by submission. The veteran grappler, however, lost his only fight in the TUF house and also dropped his lone fight since then, via TKO. Though tough as thy come, one has to wonder what kind of redemption Gallichio’s inclusion in the show offers, save for another shot at a dream for a hard-nosed, likable guy.