James Krause will tell you he wears his heart on his sleeve. Then, the 155-pounder will show you the inked heart tattooed to the inside of his bicep. There’s a samurai, too, on his shoulder.
“It’s my warrior spirit,” Krause says nonchalantly. “The competitor in me, I guess,”
Jason High, meanwhile, is known as The Kansas City Bandit. There’s no sentimental meaning behind the nickname, but his fighting style gives the moniker legitimacy. High will fight at 155 pounds for the first time in his career at UFC Fight Night 42 on June 7 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Krause’s next fight comes even sooner — his lightweight showdown against Jamie Varner is the first bout of tonight’s UFC 173 event in Las Vegas, which will be televised live via pay per view.
Both men — Krause and High — have roots in Kansas City. Both own their own gyms, and neither lacks for ambition. Each has been fighting for more than eight years but still possesses the insatiable hunger of a beginner.
Their similarities may end there, but people around Kansas City have taken note of their continuing success.
“I get a crazy amount of support,” Krause said. “They do watch parties. They buy all my shirts. Just an unlimited amount of support, you know. It’s pretty incredible how supportive — not just my gym, but the entire Kansas City area is.”
That Krause found a career in fighting was somewhat of a surprise, even to him.
As a 20-year old college student, he had no intention of becoming a professional fighter.
“I just wanted to learn how to defend myself, and I ended up being decent at it,” Krause, 27, said.
Krause’s 20-5 record attests to how well he defends himself. Thirteen of those wins were by submission, five by knockout. Having accomplished every goal he set out for himself in mixed martial arts, he now talks about venturing deeper into the business side of the sport with his gym, Glory MMA & Fitness in Lee’s Summit, which he bought seven months ago.
Fighting will take a backseat one day. When, he doesn’t know.
“I’m not sure, really,” Krause said. “I haven’t really thought about that. It just depends on family and how your body reacts. Anytime you get injuries, that changes everything. It just depends on how healthy I stay.
“I’ve always liked to compete in everything I do. I’ve always been a competitor. And I think just the drive to be better than I was yesterday is important to me. Always getting better, always competing.”
As for today, Krause is focused on Varner, 29. Krause has been training for three months, two or three times per day. Although he has a natural edge over other fighters in his weight class thanks to his 6-foot-2 stature — Varner stands 5-foot-8 — Krause knows better than to overlook anyone.
Krause describes Varner, 21-9-1 with 9 KOs, as very good, very well-rounded and very tough. Krause also knows that he’s been able to hold his own against most opponents.
“I think people that watch me think I’m exciting,” Krause said. “They want to see more fights like the ones I put on. I think I always fight for the fans. I fight to be exciting.”
Fighting was always a hobby for High.
High, 32, wrestled throughout high school and college, so fighting professionally made sense to him. He spent his final semester at Nebraska in Costa Rica, where he studied jiu-jitsu.
When he returned to America, he took his first fight.
“A lot of people, sometimes including myself, are surprised that I’m a fighter of any kind because I’m laid back and quiet,” High said.
High recently opened a gym of his own in Lenexa called American Top Team HD. He’s planning a “soft opening” on June 1.
His plan? When his body forces him to retire, fighting will remain part of his life.
“I really like fighting,” he said. “I like training. I like competing. I like working out. I don’t like desk jobs. I don’t like having somebody breathing down my neck telling me what to do all the time. (Fighting) is kind of what I’ve been doing my entire life.”
As a professional, High is 19-4. He will try for his 20th win against Rafael dos Anjos, a Brazil native. High sees this fight as the next significant step toward his ultimate goal: becoming lightweight champion of the world.
First, High must break into the top 10.
“I like to finish people,” High said. “That’s the main thing I would describe my fighting style as. I’m a finisher. I like to get in and get out. Put people away. And then go home.”
High doesn’t know when he’ll walk away from the octagon for good.
“I always thought I’d be retired by 35, but I’ll be 33 this year and I don’t really feel like slowing down any time soon,” High said. “I’m feeling good. My body is feeling good. So, in five years, I’d like to have that belt around my waist and fighting to defend it.”
Krause and High know their careers are temporary, but right now is the only time that matters.
Krause’s wife is a nurse. She gets nervous when his fights approach, but he doesn’t think she worries.
“She knew what she was getting into when we got together,” he said.
Some approach High not understanding what he does for a living.
“You fight UFC?” They ask him.
“No, I fight MMA,” he answers, explaining that MMA is the generic, catch-all term for the sport, and UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sports main sanctioning body.
“I compare it to like if you grab a tissue to blow your nose, you call it a Kleenex,” High said.
But there’s nothing generic about High or Krause, or the support they’re garnering in Kansas City and beyond.
“(MMA) is starting to grow more now,” Krause said. “It wasn’t big at all, and it’s really starting to, this past year or two, it’s really hit hard in Kansas City.
“We have multiple fighters out of there now fighting in the UFC. It’s really starting to grow rapidly, and I don’t see it going anywhere but up from here.”
WHEN/WHERE: Tonight in Las Vegas
LOCAL INTEREST: Lightweight bout between James Krause of Lee’s Summit and Jamie Varner.
TV: Preliminaries, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1; main card, 9 p.m., pay-per-view including Krause-Varner bout and main event between UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw.