The urge to walk inside the cage intensifies every time Jason High prepares for a mixed martial arts fight. The anticipation is often enough motivation for “The Kansas City Bandit” to push through some of the harder training days, he says.
Even more so now.
High, 34, is set to return to the cage for the first time in 17 months when he faces Estevan Payan as the co-main event in the World Series of Fighting 25, which will be broadcast live from Phoenix on Friday on NBC Sports Network.
High is returning from a one-year suspension.
“I’m always excited to have a fight, but it’s like fighting with a new lease on life at this point,” said High, a Blue Springs High School graduate who helped the Wildcats win a wrestling state championship in 1999. “It’s not like I needed extra motivation, but this was a kick-start for me to stay busy and keep working.”
High has fought only once since the start of 2014, a product of appendicitis that hospitalized him for a week along with a suspension.
The latter came in June 2014. While competing in the lightweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, recognized as the top league in MMA, High shoved a referee after losing a match. High was visibly unhappy that referee Kevin Mulhall stopped the match after a technical knockout.
High immediately apologized on Twitter, but he was suspended from competition for a year, and UFC president Dana White announced High’s release from UFC in the ensuing days.
“It’s totally out of character for me. Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t have a history of anything like that,” High said in a phone interview with The Star last week. “It was a really unfortunate event, and I take full responsibility for it. I’ve spent my time on the shelf. I’m ready to move past it.”
After being cut by UFC, High said he contemplated retirement, but after training some local fighters at his gym in Lenexa — American Top Team HD — he decided to make a return.
That return comes Friday against Payan, another newcomer to the World Series of Fighting.
“I just really like what I do too much to give it up. This is a lifestyle for me,” High said. “Looking back on it, it was easy to stay in decent shape while I’m in the gym helping out the other fighters. I couldn’t let it go.”