Jason High has grown over the last two years and feels, at age 34, as if he could be on the verge of something special. He has found salvation of sorts in the World Series of Fighting organization after a momentary lapse in judgment relegated him to the sidelines for more than a year.
High was released by the Ultimate Fighting Championship following a technical knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos in June 2014. However, his actions in the immediate aftermath were what drew all the attention. When High rose to his feet, he protested referee Kevin Mulhall’s decision to call for the stoppage by shoving him with both hands. Mulhall walked away from the incident unharmed, but High was cut by the UFC and received a 12-month suspension.
“That’s something I really don’t even think about anymore,” he told Sherdog.com. “That was so long ago, and I grew from that. It was a bad mistake on my part and it was definitely something that should have never happened, but I’m at a better place in my life right now and I’m looking to continue this positive path that I’m on.”
After serving his suspension, High touched down in the WSOF and rattled off back-to-back victories against Estevan Payan and Mike Ricci. Neither man made it out of the second round against him, and “The Kansas City Bandit” emerged as a logical contender for World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. For now, High has zeroed in on his latest challenge: a showdown with Brazilian submission specialist Joao Zeferino at WSOF 33 on Friday at the Municipal Auditorium Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.
“It doesn’t do me any good to worry about something that might or might not happen in the future,” High said. “My focus is on Zeferino, and if I slip against someone like him, there won’t be a title shot at all. I can’t have any kind of added stress or thoughts or anything like that going into a fight of this size, so I just block all that out of my mind. I can’t control the future, so why should I try and worry about it?”
Zeferino will enter the cage on a two-fight losing streak, but High expects to have his hands full and has taken steps to prepare for every possible scenario.
“He’s had a rough stretch recently, but it wasn’t like he was losing to bad fighters,” High said. “He fought up a weight class and lost to [Jon] Fitch and then he lost to Brian Foster in the [lightweight] tournament. Those are losses, but they were against high-level fighters, and with the circumstances surrounding those losses, that needs to be considered. I don’t see him as a guy coming off of two losses and suddenly he’s not good anymore. I expect him to come in with a little extra motivation. With a guy like him coming off two losses, though, his back is against the wall, and those types of fighters are dangerous.”
Much has been made of Zeferino’s ground game. He has delivered 15 of his 20 career victories by submission: four by heel hook, three by rear-naked choke, three by armbar, three by arm-triangle choke, one by keylock and one by guillotine choke. High, too, prefers to grapple and thinks he has the tools necessary to compete with the Brazilian in that arena.
“As far as our ground game goes, I don’t know that we’ll necessarily be butting heads, but I think mine is a little more diverse than his,” he said. “I’m prepared for anything, of course, but I know he really likes his leg locks, so we are spending quite a bit of time there. With that said, I’m ready to fight wherever this fight goes. I try to leave the expectations of a ground game out of the equation. I try not to focus on the what-ifs when I fight anybody, because if I do, then the fight might not go as expected. I don’t want to be surprised by anything once the fight begins.
“I like to just go with the flow of the fight,” High added. “If the fight does wind up going to the ground, I’ll be plenty comfortable there. Just like if it stays standing up, I’ll be comfortable there, as well.”