Ready for prime time
By ANDREW MCGINN
Having Johnny “Hollywood” Case as your landlord would be kind of unnerving, if you think about it.
Here’s a guy who made his UFC debut in September, winning a “Performance of the Night” bonus worth an extra $50,000 by choking his opponent into unconsciousness.
But, now, it’s 2 in the morning and your toilet is clogged — do you call and bug your landlord, a dude who makes his living as a professional cage fighter?
And, God forbid, what if you couldn’t make rent?
“You better pay your rent this month,” Case joked, “or I’ll be knocking on your door.”
With his foray into the multi-billion-dollar Ultimate Fighting Championship, the 25-year-old Jefferson native is looking into acquiring several rental properties here at home, “to keep my money working for me,” he explained recently from San Diego during a break in training.
Case will step back into The Octagon on Jan. 18 in a fight televised on Fox Sports 1 from Boston’s TD Garden.
That night in September at the Saitama Super Arena near Tokyo — where he finished off odds-on favorite Kazuki Tokudome in the second round with something called a guillotine choke — instantaneously propelled the 2007 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School into financial stability after years of barely making ends meet on the regional fight circuit.
“I haven’t gone out and bought any hookers or cocaine,” he confessed. “It’s just a little less stressful.”
At 18, he embarked on a path that would see him break more than his share of bones, including four or five broken noses.
He tended bar by night, got from Point A to Point B in a beat-up, 1992 Dodge Caravan and sustained himself with ramen noodles.
The most he ever made at the regional level was $3,000.
“I felt I’d been working so hard and I didn’t have anything to show for it,” Case said.
Then the UFC signed him to a multi-fight deal and sent him to Japan — the homeland of ramen.
“Overnight, bam, it just changed for me,” Case said.
He bought a nice suit, and tablets for his boys, Kruz and Kuper, ages 3 and 2, respectively.
“It didn’t feel so much like I made it,” Case said. “I felt I was where I belonged.”
Sometimes, though, it’s not just about money.
“This is how I found myself,” Case said. “I was a lost kid. I didn’t have any direction or goals.
“Fighting brought out my inner spirit.”
Whether or not your stomach churns at the mere thought of mixed-martial arts — the sport famously derided back in the ’90s by Sen. John McCain as “human cockfighting” — there’s no denying its popularity.
And when Case steps into the cage on Jan. 18 for his second UFC bout, it will arguably mark the first time in history that the words “Jefferson, Iowa” will be announced loudly inside the arena that doubles as home to the Boston Celtics.
Case’s bout is part of a series of fights that begin at 6 p.m. Iowa time.
The coverage on Fox Sports 1 is part of a broadcast deal between the UFC and Fox Sports worth $700 million.
Case himself is now backed by five sponsors, including Dee Zee, a Des Moines-based manufacturer of truck accessories.
In the aftermath of his UFC debut, three of those sponsors significantly increased their support, according to Case.
For a fighter, there’s a delicate balance between confidence and cockiness.
You have to be confident in order just to show up to what’s basically a glorified fistfight.
“It’s pretty easy to stay humble,” Case said. “As soon as you get a big head, the next thing you know, you’re getting your ass kicked.”
That said, he openly vows to beat his opponent, Frankie Perez, a prediction that’s rooted in about a half-hour worth of study.
Two previously announced opponents for the Boston fight backed out.
“You’ve got to see ways you can actually beat him,” explained Case, who looked at Perez’s fight history.
Perez outranks him in jiu-jitsu — a black belt to Case’s purple belt — but that’s OK.
“I don’t want to fight a tomato can,” Case reasoned. “I want somebody who’s going to make it exciting to the fans.
“If I’m going to work this hard, I don’t want to go in and get a 10-second knockout.”
Case spent the holidays in San Diego, where he trains with fellow UFC lightweight Myles Jury, preparing for Jan. 18.
Christmas was just another day, with two workouts.
“If anything,” Case said, “it’s just relieving knowing that the time is coming to an end. The grind is almost done.”
But if it’s hard enough to envision a professional cage fighter as a landlord — Mr. Furley this ain’t — try picturing one as a dad.
His boys got to watch a replay of Dad’s big fight in Japan and,
“the next thing,” Case said, “they were wrestling and fighting each other.”
“I had to tell them it’s not nice to punch and kick,” he said.