Friday, June 7, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Some nights, Jason High had it easy.
His 24-hour shifts as an emergency medical technician in Southern California would pass without incident and he’d have time to rest or work out at the station. At other times, life as a full-time EMT wasn’t as accommodating to someone concurrently pursuing a professional fighting career.
“For the most part, you stay busy and it gets rough,” High said. “Sometimes I’d have to stay up all night working and then go straight to the gym for training.”
High was still pulling double-duty around the time he landed his first fight in the UFC, a March 2010 assignment against Charlie Brenneman that he lost by unanimous decision. The UFC released High after the defeat, just as he was starting to dedicate himself wholly to mixed martial arts.
The 31-year-old “Kansas City Bandit” returns to the octagon Saturday after seasoning his skills persistently for three years. High (16-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) is the only American fighter on the main card of UFC on FUEL TV 10 in Fortaleza, Brazil, where he meets Erick Silva (14-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in a welterweight bout.
“It’s nice to be in the UFC, but an organization doesn’t define who I am,” High said.
That attitude helped High get over his termination three years ago. While getting cut from the world’s largest promotion devastates some fighters to the point they’re never the same, it only worked to motivate High.
He took no time off, getting right back into the gym and looking for his next fight.
“It’s just something I’ve learned, to take things as they come and not dwell on things,” High said. “There was nothing I could do but go out and try to win to get back, so that’s what I did.”
High moved back to his native Kansas City and eventually opened his own facility with MMA veteran LC Davis, the HD Gym in Leawood, Kan. He also started traveling to Coconut Creek, Fla., to work out with American Top Team.
Initially, the trips were just to help former UFC top contender Thiago Alves prepare for fights. But High ultimately decided to join the team himself, figuring the mix of instructors and training partners could be invaluable to his career.
Sure enough, High hasn’t lost since. He’s tied a career-best with a seven-fight winning streak, which included a 3-0 run in Strikeforce and victories over current UFC fighters Jordan Mein and Quinn Mulhern.
“It’s just been me maturing as a fighter and coming into my own,” High said. “I hardly ever think about the win streak. It’s not on my mind because it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. You still have another fight in front of you.”
The showdown with Silva, one of the top 170-pound prospects despite a unanimous-decision loss to Jon Fitch last October, is billed as the most important fight of High’s career. But High scoffs at the thought and brings up that his last performance, a 26-second submission win over Nate Moore, was what landed him back in the UFC.
He never felt hostile toward the UFC for letting him go the first time around. Despite an outcry from his considerable online fan base, High felt his release was justified.
He says he’s much better now and won’t give the UFC a chance to get rid of him again. He’s developed a focus that was never available before.
High no longer goes an entire 24 hours without a workout session while on call for something else.
“It was a pretty chill job, but it got old after a while,” High said of his EMT days. “Now I’ve been able to put the time in and I’ve definitely started to hit that magic number when things have started to click.”