Savvy and experienced welterweight Jason High makes his long awaited return to the Octagon on Saturday's UFC on FUEL TV 10 event from Brazil, where accelerating crowd favorite Erick Silva will serve as his not-so-welcoming opponent. The bout is among the half-dozen slated for the featured half of the card, which is captained by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Fabricio Werdum and begins on Fuel TV at 8:00 p.m. ET after the 7-fight Facebook preliminary card kicks off the evening at approximately 4:30 ET.
Jason High (16-3) wrestled at the Division 1 level (University of Nebraska) after carving out a good rep in high school and junior college. Be sure to read Mike Riordan's "Factgrinder" piece about High's wrestling credentials, which is summarized as follows:
Jason serves to exemplify the value that a few years in a Division 1 wrestling room hold to a fighter, regardless of achievement level. Relative to the wrestling level of most of the athletes I envision will be featured on the Factgrinder, High's competitive wrestling achievements are merely solid. However, closer inspection of Jason's wrestling career reveals qualities about the man which are possibly more important to success as a fighter than any mere competitive wrestling achievement.
My take: High doesn't have A-level wrestling accolades for MMA, but any 3-year competitor at a D1 powerhouse like Nebraska will exhibit well above average fundamentals which High certainly does. We all understand that wrestling in a singlet does not directly translate to wrestling in the cage, and High's wrestling is highly functional and well suited to MMA. Most importantly, the biggest determining factor for any single-sport standout crossing over to MMA is their toughness and adaptability, and High gets ... well, "high" marks there, as well.
The 31-year-old ATT fighter came out of the gate with a 7-0 record before UFC welterweight Jay Hieron KO'd him clean in the 1st-round of the infamous Affliction: Day of Reckoning event. High then signed up for the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix and picked off former DEEP champ Yuya Shirai and edged out BJJ whiz Andre Galvao to score a spot in the finals. There, he was relegated to Marius Zaromskis' highlight reel, crumpling under the Lithuanian's signature head kick.
Despite coming off a loss, High signed with the UFC but was treated to the one-and-done routine after Charlie Brenneman out-wrestled him to a decision. Since that defeat in March of 2010, High's rattled off an unbeaten 7-fight surge to earn another go in the Octagon. Top-shelf opposition is nothing foreign to "The Kansas City Bandit," as UFC-caliber names like Jordan Mein, Hayato Sakurai, Kevin Burns and Quinn Mulhern are sprinkled throughout his win column.
The ever prescient Scouting Report put Bloody Elbow readers on notice about prospect Erick Silva (14-3) way back in 2010. The 28-year-old X-Gym/Team Nogueira product stepped into the Octagon for the first time at UFC 134 with a 13-1-1 record and as the inaugural Jungle Fight welterweight champion. 40-seconds later, with Luis Ramos napping on the canvas after a blistering KO, it was quite apparent that there was more substance than hype to Silva.
Despite incurring a loss via DQ for strikes to the back of Carlo Prater's head that were enforced uncharacteristically per MMA's history, fans were justifiably more moved by Silva's consecutive barrage of fight-ending punches than the sour outcome at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro. Silva sustained the luster with a commanding 1st-round submission over Charlie Brenneman on the UFC on FX 3 card, but fell short against longtime #2 welterweight Jon Fitch. However, Silva's gameness and gritty performance against a proven talent once again earned him respect despite the flaw on his record.
Much of Silva's appeal can be attributed to his 3-dimensional capabilities. Pre-UFC, he'd established a fierce boxing and submission grappling game, but his Octagon outings showed a strong grasp of wrestling, takedown defense and high-level scrambling, especially for such a relative newcomer. Silva is a known finisher, having buttoned up 11 of his 14 wins with 8 subs and 3 TKO's, and training with the likes of Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the Nogueira and Pitbull brothers has endowed him with solid timing, footwork, cage motion and combat intelligence.
It's pretty apparent that High's path to victory is through wrestling. It's no coincidence that the UFC opposition that Silva struggled with the most were both excellent wrestlers: Fitch, who's responsible for Silva's only legit UFC defeat, relied on that trade solely to out-hustle him, and Brenneman gave him a handful early with his relentless takedown attempts. Though undoubtedly tenacious, Brenneman's takedowns were rarely set up effectively, so that will be of monumental importance to High against Silva.
Having watched much of High's career transpire, I'd assess his head movement and level changes as a key factor. He always holds his hands high in a protective stance, but his head is too often left dangerously stationary. Were he to employ more elaborate angles when closing distance, High could get away with his brand of head movement, but he tends to charge forward in straight lines. In addition to his head being an available target in striking exchanges, the same applies when High lowers his level for takedown attempts. His stand up is not poor, but past opponents are well aware that his wrestling deserves respect and they've been able to key in on and predict his attacks by reading his head movement/level.
Based on the way Silva head-hunted against Fitch and Brenneman, I expect "Indio" to adjust his striking for a wrestling oriented opponent: he'll lower the level of his stance a tad so as to meet High eye to eye, he'll stay on balance and avoid planting his feet to load up unnecessary power, add in more uppercuts and step-in knees to dissuade High from dropping levels, and throw his straight punches at chest-level instead of towards the head/chin. These are minor changes that make a wrestler's bread and butter drastically more precarious.
Silva's momentum, 2-3" height and reach advantage, and his volatile striking and submissions clearly establish him as the favorite as mirrored in the betting lines. High is as tough as they come and has a solid chance to reenact the problems that Fitch and Brenneman caused for Silva, but the odds favor Silva in this one for a good reason.
My Prediction: Erick Silva by TKO.