A TOTAL KNOCKOUT: MCC owner and UFC’s Johnny Case gives back to the sport he loves
By BRANDON HURLEY
Behind the scenes is where Johnny Case really thrives, even if a security guard at his own showcase stops him for identification.
Donning a baby blue, button-up dress shirt coupled with a navy jacket, the clean-cut Jefferson-Scranton graduate and UFC fighter bounces from place-to-place as the opening bell of the latest Midwest Cage Championship (MCC) fights approach.
Case seamlessly transitions from a light-hearted chat with old buddies to pressing sponsor stickers into the ring mat. He chomps down on a local fast food burger, gives a rousing speech to the crowd and even serves as a stand-in trainer for a local fighter, taping his hands mere moments before a fight.
As the new owner of MCC, Case is a jack of all trades, and runs his business out of a deep passion. The prep prior to each showcase is like a giant puzzle, with each piece carefully put into place.
He handles his pre-fight business routine with tremendous poise, patience and a general likeabilty that draws even the most casual bystander to him.
You’d find it hard to fathom the rising UFC star was awake into the wee hours of the morning helping set up for MCC 63 back on Jan. 26 at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.
But there he was, rubbing elbows with the stage crew and security, putting sweat into his newest baby.
Case doesn’t grind for notoriety, he does it because he’s repaying a debt.
–– • ––
The 6-feet-1-inch fighter, who has a permanent residence in Phoenix, has compiled a 22-5 career MMA record and has been sidelined recently due to a lingering foot injury. He reluctantly backed out of his most-recent fight scheduled for February in Houston after aggravating the broken foot he suffered in 2016. The setback has allowed him to reassess his career as well as focus on his Iowa business.
Training is a huge part of MMA, but so is having a strong, clear mind. MCC helps Case stay level headed.
“Fighting is all mental,” Case said. “No matter what production you do, what you call it and whether you put it up on a pedestal or not, it’s still a fist fight. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a back alley or in front of thousands of screaming fans. It’s still the same and how you deal with it.”
Staying connected to his roots keeps him grounded as well. The mighty Rick Tasler, a Jefferson native and Case’s uncle, handles fight promotion and is the rules enforcer. He lays out the expectations for each fighter, using his wealth of knowledge of the sport. Tasler is a former MMA fighter who is now the Madrid police chief. He went 32-0 during his six-year career.
“Rick is the best promoter in Iowa. He knows the ins and outs,” Case said. “Having him has been awesome. We are a big team. Rick is a great matchmaker. It’s not just setting up fair fights, it’s setting the style so it’s entertaining for the fan. Building the card so it’s action throughout the night.”
Tasler is committed to sportsmanship in a profession that often glorifies violence and bravado.
“We busted our ass to get this sport to where it is now,” he said to a group of fighters minutes before MCC 63. “We won’t tolerate unsportsmanlike behavior.”
Tasler was the one who pulled Case into mixed martial arts, guiding him away from a life that seemed destined for poor decisions. Tasler saw athletic potential and helped harness it. He had to push Case to get involved, but now, MMA hasn’t only birthed a career but a business opportunity as well.
“It’s awesome to see him so successful knowing where he came from. It was a lot of hard work, don’t get me wrong. Keeping him out of trouble and on the straight and narrow,” Tasler said. “He’s a man. He was a boy when he found this sport and it turned him into a man.”
Though Case’s fiery personality fits the bill of some of UFC’s most popular fighters, his work ethic and selflessness set him miles apart.
Case is in his element, far from the VIP section, in the heat of the action, mucking it up with almost anyone.
It’s been a full year since he purchased MCC, and Case has set some big things in motion.
He’s not just a convenient financial backer either, the former Ram is heavily involved with the entire process, before and after the fights. From locking up competitors to securing sponsors and putting out good public relations, Case doesn’t delegate – he’s a team player in a sport often glorified for its individuality.
His story is as refreshing as it is heart-warming.
Taking over MCC is Case’s gift to an organization that provided him numerous opportunities that helped spawn his blossoming career.
Case achieved unparalleled success in MCC in the early 2010s, ringing up six straight championships and a 12-match win streak.
The 155-pound fighter felt purchasing MCC was the perfect way to reciprocate the love and generosity he received during his come up.
“I’m not doing this for any other reason than to give back to the sport that has been so great to me. Des Moines, Iowa, MCC, Iowa MMA, has been so great to me to allow my dream come true,” Case said. “Fighting in the UFC has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.”
It’s a way for him to provide an outlet for aspiring local MMA fighters and a form of entertainment for the passionate fans of Iowa. It’s been a seamless transition. MCC is approaching its third showcase under Case’s guidance, which kicks off Friday, April 14 in downtown Des Moines for MCC 64.
“I put a lot into it,” Case said. “It’s not stressful — it’s what I love to do. It stacks really well with my career. Training hard during the day — that grind — then coming home and sitting down and working on the business side. It’s a nice balance and all about the sport I love.”
Showcase preparation starts far in advance and often goes deep into the night. A little elbow grease helps MCC excel. It’s a gritty job that Case certainly doesn’t shy away from. To him, it’s not a choice. It’s an obligation.
“There’s no task or job here that I’m above,” Case said. “Everyone plays a very important part. I think it sets a good example to not just delegate. To make sure everything is getting done and every little task is being met.”
–– • ––
The Tasler-Case family bond has certainly blossomed into one heck of a business relationship as well.
Together, they work tirelessly to produce a fight card that not only features fair bouts — ones that give each grappler an equal chance to win — but fights that are also challenging. It’s something Case said not many smaller MMA companies around the state or even the country are doing right now. It’s a problem he wants to see corrected.
“The last thing fighters need is promoters that give them mismatched fights that ruin their career before it even gets started,” he said. “Other promoters, they tend to build some of their fighters up and forget about the other ones. They will feed them to the sharks so that their fighters get wins and don’t ever grow.”
It’s important that Case and his MCC colleagues produce an exciting card as well. He doesn’t like a slow build up to the main event, he wants knockouts and lightning quick punches throughout the night.
“It’s a big puzzle you have to put together,” Case said. “You have to worry about the product of the show, too. People aren’t going to come if the fights suck. It’s all entertainment.”
The transition behind the scenes of MMA has been a welcome breath of fresh air for Case. He didn’t take over a dying business but a thriving one that was in search of a new direction. The support has been tremendous from day one and has helped him take MCC to new heights.
“The sponsors, the venue, social media, the crew, everything was on board when I bought it and was a well-oiled machine,” Case said. “The fans have been unreal, there’s a buzz. I know most of these guys. I came up through this.”
MCC 64: Anthony Baccam vs. Demi Deeds kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 14 at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines.
Midwest Cage Championship isn’t where Case wants it to be, just yet, but he’s well on his way to repaying that debt he took on years ago. Little did he, or anyone for that matter know the Jefferson native would wind up running the show after ringing up six titles. Next on the agenda is to bring more highlight-reel MMA entertainment to central Iowa, but not without a little home-cooking and family bonding.
Who knows, maybe even a local basketball legend will make an appearance next week. (University of Iowa basketball star Peter Jok is rumored to attend.)
It’s just a testament to how grounded the UFC star has stayed through it all.