However, High rebounded quickly by defeating Yuya Shirai in the opening round of DREAM's welterweight grand prix in April. On Monday, he faces Andre Galvao in the semifinals, and should he win, he will meet the winner of Hayato Sakurai and Marius Zaromskis in the finals on the same night.
FanHouse spoke to High about competing in the tournament and fighting in Japan. Check out the full interview below.
Ariel Helwani: What was it like fighting in Japan for the first time?
Jason High: That was cool, man. I always wanted to fight over there, you know, and they're really respectful, and they really appreciate the intricacies about fighting a lot more than they do over here. So, you know, it's nice to fight for an educated crowd, and have people not booing and yelling out stupid s**t. We were treated really well, and everything was great.
Clearly you enjoy the showmanship part of the sport, so I'm guessing you like the way the fighters come out, right?
Well, I think they should start doing that over here a lot because the theatrics and the presentation is part of the show a little more. They like the characters; it's more of a professional wrestling thing, I mean. So, I thought it was really cool. You know, it adds more depth to the show.
Does it bother you when they promote fights involving Jose Canseco along with great MMA fights on the same card?
I don't really care. I mean, if that's what Japanese people like. That kind of stuff, you know, it's more like entertainment, as it kind of should be, I think. It doesn't bother me at all if they -- I mean, it bothers me more that people actually think Jose Canseco is a legit mixed martial artist, you know. I mean pretty much anybody in MMA knows that that fight was just a typical Japanese spectacle, you know, not like a serious fight.
Does flying out from California make things a little more difficult on you?
No, that doesn't really bother me because I can pretty much sleep on command. It was kind of weird [because] we left at noon, and then when we landed it was nine o'clock in Japan, but it was the next day. So it really wasn't that big a deal. It only felt like I lost a couple of hours, because I was still ready to go to bed by the time it was midnight. ... I've heard some horror stories. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
So if I tell you to go to sleep right now, you could do it?
Yeah, I probably could. I'm probably going to go to sleep right now anyways, as soon as I get home and take a shower (laughs).
The first time most MMA fans got a chance to see you fight was at "Affliction: Day of Reckoning" in January. How devastating was it to lose to Jay Hieron on such a grand stage in just 64 seconds?
It was pretty bad. I went to the after party, but I didn't really want to, only because one of my friends pretty much made me. But I just wanted to ... I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but I got over it. I didn't even remember much of the fight, so it's not like I had a lot to be disappointed about. I mean, I've seen the fight but, you know, it wasn't that bad.
Did the fact that they pushed your fight until after the main event mess up with your timing?
I don't know. I didn't feel like it did, but who knows? I'm not going to blame it on them. My hand wasn't where it was supposed to be when he threw that punch, so I caught one.
Since that was the first loss of your pro MMA career, did it take you a while to get back in the gym and get over it?
Nah, I usually just go back in the gym, because the more you sit around it doesn't really help anybody by feeling sorry for yourself and moping around. You're just wasting time, so I went right back in the gym. Even though they told me not to, I went right back in there and starting working on the mistake that I made. It doesn't make much sense sitting on the couch and beating yourself up about it.
When you were training for the Shirai fight did you feel more nervous because the possibility of losing two in a row was hanging over you head?
No, not really. When I fought Jay, they kept telling us that they might cancel the fight, and by the time we got around to fight I was just really, really excited to fight, so I was like, 'Oh yeah, I get to fight,' and I just went out there, and I was too excited. So I just tried to relax for this fight. I had a lot of fun in the locker room, and just tried to relax, and act like it was just a normal day at the office, which is how I normally am. The Jay Hieron fight was a little bit of an exception as far as my attitude and mood. I just try to relax, because we put all the work in in the gym and then you go out, and you're supposed have fun during the fight. That's what I tried to do for that fight.
How did you celebrate your victory over there?
Well, we didn't really have anything to do, so we just wandered around the streets ... and, you know, nothing really. We didn't do anything, we just wandered around and drank beer (laughs).
There's no after parties or anything, so we were pretty much up all night walking around Japan.
Sounds like fun. Did anyone recognize you?
Well, there wasn't a lot of people on the streets, like regular people that would know me. But there were people outside the hotel all the time waiting for autographs and pictures and stuff. But as far as when we got away from the hotel, no, nobody was really coming up to me. You know, besides all the weird looks of being a black guy in Japan, or a white guy for that matter (laughs).
I know you trained recently with Bob Sapp. I bet he can tell you all about dealing with those looks.
Well, I mean, he gets looked at anywhere he goes because he's freaking ginormous.
But, you know, he's got a lot of knowledge. He's actually a really smart guy. He puts on this front of this big scary oaf, you know, but he's really a smart guy.
Have you seen his Japanese commercials online?
No, I haven't. He told me how he does all these talk shows and commercials. I haven't seen any of his stuff, but I'm going to YouTube it today.
I definitely recommend you doing so. Moving along, your opponent on the 20th, Andre Galvao, is only 3-0 but recently scored an impressive victory over veteran John Alessio. He is proficient in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so are you expecting him to talk you down right away?
I don't know because in his fight with Alessio, he didn't really force the issue trying to take Alessio down, which kind of surprised me. So, he looks pretty comfortable anywhere. I don't know that he's going to try to take me down because he knows I'm a wrestler, but we'll see. You know, I'm just going to go out there and take the fight where it goes.
Are you impressed with his skills?
Yeah, I mean he's got great jiu-jitsu. You know, I've seen his other two fights and you know, and he looks better every fight. He's definitely getting better; he trains with good guys. He's a tough guy, for sure. It's going to be a good fight. I'm excited to fight him.
If you beat him, you'll have to fight in the finals later that night. Do you mind fighting twice on the same night?
I don't think it will be that big a deal actually, because generally, as far as cardio and everything like that, fights are easier than wrestling matches, for me anyway. For a wrestling tournament sometimes we'd have seven, eight matches a day. So, I'm not really worried about it. We're going to get in good shape anyway. Might as well have two fights.
Do you have a preference as to who you would like to face in the finals between Hayato Sakurai and Marius Zaromskis?
I haven't really thought about that much actually. I'm just concentrating on Andre, just trying to beat him, and I'll take the fight as it goes. I'm sure that's a tough fight for both of those guys I think, because Marius Zaromskis is really, really awkward and unorthodox, and Sakurai, you know, he's a legend; real tough guy.
Who do you think will win?
I think Sakurai will win probably, but you never know how good his cardio is these days. You know, Marius is in shape, so we'll see if it goes into later rounds.
I know your contract with DREAM is just for this tournament, so if you win it all, do you get an extension?
Yeah, just for one fight though.
Are you hoping to eventually land in the UFC, or are you happy fighting for DREAM and Affliction?
I'd be happy to stick around with both these promotions. As far as the UFC, the only thing I don't like about it is their exclusive contracts; they pretty much lock you down. They have so many athletes that you might get shelved for a long time. I like fighting for Affliction and Dream.
Did you ever even consider trying out for "The Ultimate Fighter" early in your career?
Yeah, I did actually. I tried to go on there right before I moved to California. I applied for "The Ultimate Fighter," and the lady called me about it, and I sent them my tape, and I never heard anything back from them, so, I didn't make it.
Which season was it?
It was probably like two or three seasons ago. ... I want to say Matt Serra and Matt Hughes.
Speaking of TUF, I noticed you recently Tweeted that Kimbo Slice isn't the only black fighter people should pay attention to. Why did you feel the need to write that?
Well, that all started because there's this Web site that I go to sometimes, it's called allhiphop.com, and there's this guy on there that does the rumors section. It's basically a daily news thing about what everybody's talking about. And he's always talking about Kimbo Slice, and it pisses me off because, you know, I'm not mad at Kimbo for getting paid. Whatever, he's got a good hustle as far as I'm concerned. But, you know, he's not good, you know. He's not a good mixed martial artist at this point in his career. He's OK, but he could be better. But I was just saying there are other people out there that are working hard and have done a lot more than him that should get recognition.
Why do you think he gets so much attention?
He's done a great job marketing himself and his brand and everything. Like I said, it's nothing negative towards him as a person or a fighter. I'm just mad at the media, you know.
Well, I know you walk out to your fights holding a baseball hat, while wearing a bandana over your face, and you have the nickname "The Bandit." So, do you feel you need to do more of that stuff to get recognized in MMA?
In the beginning I kind of hoped that my fighting would speak for itself, but it's nice to have a little gimmick. Especially in Japan, you know, they like the characters and everything like that.
Even more so in Japan. People don't care about that over here so much.
Is MMA your full-time job right now?
Well, yeah. I mean, so far. Actually, my girlfriend helps out with that a lot. She's pretty much supporting me right now (laughs).
You know, with my little money for fighting.
And she recently gave birth, right?
She did, yeah.
Congratulations. Has it been tough to juggle the birth of your child and training for this fight?
It's pretty crazy to have a new, little human you have to take care of. It's an eye-opener; it's pretty crazy.
Do you feel as though you are putting more pressure on yourself now?
Yeah, a little bit. You start thinking about stuff like that, but it's doesn't really help you to put extra pressure on yourself. I mean, for some guys it does. For me, it's just more important to stay grounded.
How's your fight against Galvao going to end?
How's my fight going to end? I don't know, violently probably (laughs).