Johnny Case might just be the hottest fighter you're not thinking about.
His trifecta of victories inside the UFC - complete with one Performance-of-the Night-worthy submission, one knockout and one decision - is impressive enough. Run the tape back a little more, though, and you'll find a trail of eight dispatched foes leading to the Octagon's steps, totaling 11 consecutive victories in all.
Normally, such a run would create a buzz, compelling the UFC to thrust the 26-year-old fighter's accomplishments into the public eye (and we've certainly seen hype for less). Winning back-to-back bouts in a sport as volatile as MMA is hard enough. Eleven straight is downright remarkable. But with Case, there's a calm and relaxed "I'm just here to let my skills shine" vibe. There's no rush.
And it's totally by design.
"I don’t want to be a champion at 26 years old and just have championship fights after championship fights after championship fights then be punch-drunk by the time I’m 30," Case told MMAFighting. "I want to be smart about it and work my way up then capitalize when it’s my time. I want to be champion. I want that title. I want to get my money, get my pride and bow away while I still have healthy years to enjoy my life and enjoy my kids."
Making his run even more impressive, Case has consistently challenged opponents in their own backyards. He fought Kazuki Tokudome in his home country of Japan and challenged New Jersey's Frankie Perez just north of his home base, in Boston. Most recently, he battled Mexican-born Francisco Trevino in Mexico City, and on Nov. 7, he'll travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil to face Nova Uniao's Yan Cabral at UFC Fight Night 77.
This too is just part of Case's plan. He recognizes a unique opportunity to travel the world as a professional fighter under the UFC banner, and he's making the most of it, even if it means he'll have to endure some boos along the way.
"When someone comes to my house, comes to my territory, I’m automatically in defense mode," Case said. "I’m the one who has to stop him from invading my territory, so to say. When I go there...I don’t have all my friends and family in the crowd to worry about seeing me get beat up. I have zero cares in the world. I just know he’s the one that’s got to defend his home. I’m going there to take over. I’m going there and I’m going to just impose my will and make him look bad in front of all his friends and family."
Whether he likes it or not, a fourth straight win in the UFC's lightweight division will put Case somewhere in the metaphorical "mix." No matter how slowly he wants to take it, at some point he'll need to face top-15 competition, and he knows his training, formerly at San Diego's Alliance MMA and currently at Arizona's Power MMA, has prepared him for that inevitability.
"I know I can compete with the top 10 because I train with people in the top 10 every day," Case said. "On any given day, I mix it up with them well. They kick my ass sometimes, I kick their ass sometimes—it’s a good mix. It’s amazing (at Power MMA). It’s exactly what I was looking for. The kind of guys here, they’re just really genuine, caring individuals. They’re all family men, and it’s about the team. It’s a team gym.
"No one is there for themselves or for selfish reasons. Everybody’s there because they have a passion and want the fighters to excel and be world champions."
Before he crests that peak though, Case wouldn't mind making a pitstop against a certain 155-pound wunderkind named Sage. After Case dealt Trevino his first career loss at UFC 188, a young superstar in the making swooped in and tacked on a second defeat, and Case sees a matchup against Northcutt as an easy day at the office, one he'd relish, given the chance.
"He's (Northcutt is) very green in MMA," Case said. "He still fights like an amateur fighter as far as gameplans and strategy. The skills are there. He has very good skills, he’s very athletic, very strong and in shape. But he’s never been in a war. He’s never taken it to where it feels like you don’t want to be in a fight and you have to dig deep and carry on.
"I can 100 percent confidently say I would beat him anywhere the fight would go. That’s because of my experience. I’m not saying he doesn’t have the ability to be a good fighter one day, but he’s not a good fighter right now. He’s not to my level yet."