Following a key win at RIZIN 17, Johnny Case spoke to Cageside Press about securing a spot in the lightweight grand prix later this year..
Johnny Case is coming off of a huge win at Rizin 17. Case, a.k.a. “Hollywood,” defeated Satoru Kitaoka via corner stoppage between the first and second round. Hollywood now has back to back wins in the Japanese MMA promotion and is poised for even bigger things going forward. We were lucky to be able to speak with Johnny Case for a bit about his journey as a martial artist and what’s looming on the horizon.
The Path to Japan
Case’s Japanese MMA fandom has existed since he was an elementary school athlete. The impression it left on him was unshakeable. Case said, “I’ve absolutely been a fan. Going back to when I first got introduced to MMA, I was wrestling at the AAU state wrestling tournament. I remember seeing this fighting on TV. They were fighting in a boxing ring but they’d have these small gloves on and they would go to the ground and fight. I just remember being so in awe of it, not knowing what it was”
The quiet crowds in Japan are also an interesting facet of the shows. There’s always a base level of noise with raucous North American crowds. Whereas in Japan, the crowd is largely quiet but will erupt at some pretty nuanced happenings during fights. Case stated, “It just goes to show the level of education though. They’re super respectful of every aspect of the fight. Not just the knockout. The energy is just through the roof, man. You’d never even be able to explain it unless you’ve been there and experienced it. The energy is unmatched in Asia over in Rizin.”
Rizin using the conventional Japanese MMA presentation of a ring also changes things. In a generalized sense, rings favor strikers and hinder grapplers whereas it’s the inverse for the cage. Case said that it “completely changes the fight. The cage is another element of the fight. You can press your opponents up on the cage and cook ’em. With the ropes, you don’t have that ability. But what you do have, it gets you closer to the body for bodylocks. There are some disadvantages but also some advantages. It just changes the fight.”
The quality of performance Case had at Rizin 17 can’t be understated. Not just in terms of cumulative damage or the finish he got. It should also be noted that Case put away a venerable, well-regarded veteran in Kitaoka. Case said, “Of course the dude’s a legend and he definitely was a warrior. I wasn’t really surprised. I just knew we were going to go out there and get the win. It’s just because of preparation.”
Case clearly respected his opponent before the fight and continues to look at Kitaoka with reverence. As much as this is a significant win for him, Case tries to not rest on any perceived laurels he has. Johnny Case said, “I kind of just focus on each fight as it is. This fight was just, it’s a worthy opponent. But my preparation and hard work, it’s just another fight.”
This victory is significant for multiple reasons though. Rizin is planning a Lightweight Grand Prix and Case secured himself a future spot in the bracket. “I’m really looking forward to it,” said Case. “I knew right away that was my title. I just have to go through the formalities of winning the fights to get there. When I was released from the UFC I thought it was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. Hindsight’s always 20/20 and it turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me.”
Names like former Bellator champion Patricky Pitbull are expected to bolster the bracket. Case is ecstatic about the notion of proving himself against the world-caliber competition this tournament will bring.
The Road Ahead
The ultimate goal for Johnny Case is to be a world champion. This Grand Prix provides him a great chance to do that. Case is also looking to secure huge paycheques from whichever promotion wants to compensate him most.
Even though he’s locked in a multi-fight deal with Rizjn, Case’s brief brush with PFL and a possible return to that promotion holds intrigue for MMA fans. Case said, “I was a last-minute replacement in the PFL tournament. I ended up having a draw with the champion of PFL. He advanced, I didn’t make it. After I win this title in Rizin, it’s really going to come down to who pays the most. We’ll just see who wants to offer the most.”
The MMA Lab and Xtreme Couture are both facilities Case has been honing his world-class skills at. Predominantly he’s at Xtreme Couture but he still gets in work at his prior gym. The dynamic works super well for Case at this juncture in his career. Johnny Case said, “I live in Las Vegas. Both gyms, both coaches they respect each other. I’m always going back to the lab. Can’t say enough good things about both gyms.”
There’s also a duality that exists with his personal and professional life now. Case’s girlfriend is UFC fighter Emily Whitmire. Whitmire makes her own Kombucha at home (saving some kombucha treks to the store for Case) and the relationship seems to provide balance for both. The two now live together in Las Vegas and no longer have to commute to see one another. Which is to say that Case’s move to Xtreme Couture is giving him a comprehensive work-life balance.
It will be exciting to see how the story continues to unfurl for “Hollywood” Johnny Case.