"All my hard work has paid off and I’m just ready to get in there and get a win." - Johnny Case
First things first. Johnny Case earned his shot to scrap inside the Octagon by having an eight-fight win streak, including six stoppages via strikes.
The 25-year-old Iowa native has been, literally, laying the smack down all over MMA’s midwest regional scene for the past several years. Amassing a pro record of 18-4, “Hollywood” owns all but two of his victories from finishes with well over half of those KO and submissions coming in the first round.
And that would have been the first thing said from people’s lips or written from their fingertips about Case if the promising lightweight made his UFC debut in June. But an unknown injury led to an unusual removal from the San Antonio card and, now, everyone just wants to talk about Hollywood’s rods and cones.
“I was doing the eye medicals and the doctor discovered I had a detached retina,” Case said. “I had no idea I had a detached retina. After my last fight, I was kind of seeing some bright flashing light that lasted about a week or so. I wrote it off that I had taken a good shot in the fight and, maybe, I was concussed. It ended up going away, so I didn’t know I had a detached retina.”
The aforementioned last fight of Case’s was in October, where he took home a hard fought split decision win. Case’s injury went slightly unnoticed and wholly untreated for about eight months until the UFC mandated eye examination. Afterward, the UFC paid for Case’s LASIK eye surgery and, now, he is set to make his Octagon debut in Saitama, Japan against Kazuki Tokudome.
To some, the proposal to travel across the planet and compete in someone else’s backyard in their first UFC bout would be daunting and jitter-inducing, but Case is relishing the idea.
“All my hard work has paid off and I’m just ready to get in there and get a win,” Case states. “The pressure is on him. I get to go to his hometown, fight in front of all of his friends and family and I don’t even speak Japanese. I just have to show up and fight and have fun. I don’t really feel any pressure; I don’t really feel like I’m putting the UFC on pedestal because that’s always where I felt I was going to end up.”
Location aside, the pressure will be squarely on Tokudome’s shoulders as he is in desperate need of a win. Suffering back-to-back decision losses inside the Octagon, the Tokyo native has continued to show a warrior spirit with a granite-chin and a never say die attitude, but Tokudome hasn’t been able to grab a win since his UFC debut in March 2013. With an overall 12-5-1 pro record, Tokudome owns eight of his wins by finish with six of those in the first round, so he’s a dangerous opponent from the opening moments and is ready to duke it out until the bitter end.
“He’s a very, very tough opponent,” Case admits. “Very durable. He can take a shot. He’s dangerous, he’s good, and he’s in the UFC so he’s going to win just as well as the next guy. I feel stylistically I match up very well against him. I know I can pick my shots, take my time, and work on him. I’m planning on going 3 rounds with him, but if I can finish him before that, even better. The game plan is that I’m going to go out there and score as many shots as I can and just take the fight to him. And, I have all the confidence in the world that I can do it.”
Besides improved vision, there is a major change between the Case from October and the one about to take center stage in Saitama: a new gym. Sitting in the crowd at Case’s last bout was undefeated UFC lightweight Myles “The Fury” Jury, who happened to be under the same management. Jury invited Hollywood out to California to help him get ready for his March bout against Diego Sanchez and to train at the highly-regarded Alliance MMA in San Diego.
Under the watchful of owner and head coach Eric Del Fierro, Case is working with coaches like BJJ black belt Neil Melanson, Brian Keck for wrestling and Tony Palafox for striking. Also, he gets to test himself against some of the best and brightest in the UFC like Jury, Jeremy Stephens and Norman Parke, who defeated Tokudome by unanimous decision at UFC 162.
“The biggest switch, the biggest benefit is the training partners,” Case said. “Every single person in that room is good. They’re all top-level fighters. Some days you go in and you get your butt kicked. Other days you go in and you kick their butt. It really makes you better mentally. It shows you that you can compete with some of the best in the world. The only difference is whose mind is better that day and who is ready to outwork and outperform that day.”
This Saturday on UFC FIGHT PASS, Hollywood will aim to add another clip to his highlight reel as he squares off against Tokudome. “If I can get that clean punch in the first round where I’m still fresh, that’s usually all she wrote,” Case, who is ready to show why he deserves to be in the UFC every second he’s in there, said. “He’s a really durable guy and I’m a really good striker. I’m going to put a lot of hands on him. If he can survive the onslaught then it’s going to be one good, one-sided beating and who doesn’t want to watch that?”
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