Johnny Case, who earned the nickname Hollywood with a couple of flashy knockouts early in his MMA journey, returns to Japan at RIZIN 17 this weekend.
Las Vegas, NV — After six fights in the UFC, lightweight Johnny Case saw his career with the promotion come to an end. Cliche as it may be, however, with every end comes a new beginning, and Case has flourished outside the confines of his former home. 3-0-1 outside the UFC since 2017, Case returns Sunday at RIZIN 17 at the storied Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo, Japan.
Cageside Press caught up with Case in Las Vegas while prepping for the fight, where he spoke of the differences between fighting in Japan versus America, opponent Satoru Kitaoka, and more.
“It’s been almost eight months since my last fight on New Year’s Eve,” Case said, and he’s obviously eager to get things going again. “I feel like my career kind of is just getting started there. You’ve always got to find a silver lining when it comes to any situation, change, new beginning in your life.”
The silver lining in this case is fighting for a promotion that’s a throwback to the Pride days. “To be honest I’ve always been a fan of Pride, I’ve always loved the Japanese MMA rules, the stomps, the kicks on the ground, and the knees to the head on the ground,” he told us. “I grew up as a kid watching Pride, and to be able to go fight in Japan, in the same arena, same rule set, it’s been epic. I’m really fortunate actually.”
“You never know, after I win this title in Japan, maybe it comes free circle, I become a free agent,” he added. “You never know. It’ll have to come down to who’s paying the most.”
It’s not as if UFC returns are unheard of, and “Hollywood” had a winning record with the organization, going 4-2.
In the meantime, a belt is the goal for now. Fighting in RIZIN, “it’s financially stable, but I’m not really doing it just for the money. I feel like I have a really good shot at winning a world title, and I’m seizing that opportunity.”
He’ll be doing so in a very different environment, mind you. “Without a doubt. The whole fight changes whether you’re fighting Japanese rules or American MMA rules. Not having a cage, that’s a weapon you don’t get to have when you’re in a ring. But there’s a trade-off.”
That trade-off comes because “in a cage you can press somebody against the fence and really wear them out and drain on them. You can really just smash them into the fence.” But RIZIN doesn’t use a cage. Just as Pride did, RIZIN employs a boxing ring. “The ring you can’t do that. But your arms can slip through to the body. You can get nice body arms. There’s definitely a trade-off there too.”
“Plus the Japanese way, it kind of entices more of a finish. More submission, more knockout kind of fights,” Case continued. “Where as opposed to America sometimes, you can see wrestlers going out there and just laying on somebody and eking out a win. That doesn’t work really well [in Japan]. You’ve got to fight to finish the fight, and that works for my style anyway.”
After a couple of false starts, Case is now ready to walk to the RIZIN ring once again. He’s had a bit of an issue with opponents, though that seems cleared up now. “RIZIN’s cool, you can negotiate rule sets. If you guys want to do 10 minute first round, five minute second, if you want to do three five minutes, if you want to use elbows or no elbows, it’s pretty cool.”
The no elbows rule is another callback to Pride, where they didn’t allow them due to cuts. “They want the clean death, they want an unconscious body, and elbows tend to cut.” In RIZIN, it all comes down to negotiation.
“So we were negotiating the fight, we had the rule set, everything, money was good,” he said of one opponent he had lined up earlier this year. “We were deciding on the weight.” A bit of negotiating even worked out the weight class. Then, the fighter pulled out. “I think it was kind of like, he didn’t have a lot of negotiating power with the promotion.”
Satoru Kitaoka, Case’s current opponent, has come through. “He’s a veteran of the sport. This will be like his 73rd professional fight. He’s got some wins over some big name veterans, fought in there with the biggest names, Masvidal, Daley, Carlos Condit, the list goes on. The guy’s a legend in the sport, big legend over there. Fighting a guy like him is so awesome.”
“I’m ready. I feel like I’m just getting better and better and better,” Case added. “Made some life changes, that just really made all the difference in how I approach my game and how I approach my training. I’m excited to fight, man.”
Check out our full interview with Johnny Case above. Don’t miss RIZIN 17 live on FITE.tv Sunday!