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Johnny Case willing to potentially get paid less for his chance at UFC glory

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Case, like many fighters, is not a fan of the UFC's deal with Reebok. He stands to lose a sizable chunk of money per fight from sponsors. Yet, he's willing to accept things like that for one reason: the UFC is the big leagues and he wants to compete against the best fighters on the planet.

"There's no bigger glory than winning fights in the UFC Octagon," Case told MMAFighting.com. "That's the highest platform. That's the most prestigious organization to fight for and to just piss that away for a couple extra grand on each side, that's not really worth it."

Of course, Case wishes it doesn't have to be that way. "Hollywood" said the Reebok deal is "cutting dramatically" into his funds. With only two fights in the UFC coming into his contest with Francisco Trevino at UFC 188 on Saturday in Mexico City, Case will make only $2,500 on sponsors per fight after the Reebok contract goes into effect in July until he gets to five UFC bouts.

To compound matters, Case, 25, is in the process of moving his two sons from his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, where they live with their mother, to Southern California to be closer to him. Case trains at Alliance MMA in San Diego.

"To me, it's kind of a big joke," Case said. "If we're supposed to be the highest level of our sport, we're like what the NFL is to football, then we should be paid like that. Every other professional sport, the top level, they're getting paid year salaries. They're getting health benefits. They're getting all of that. With us, we're not even getting a set pay. We have to go out there and earn our keep every single fight. Not only does that add a lot of stress to it, it's so much financial insecurity. It's not ideal. It's just frustrating."

Case (20-4) is a rising star in the UFC. He's 2-0 in the organization with a pair of finishes. A win over Trevino will move him up the ladder and he wants that climb to be very deliberate. Case hopes to get his fight total up, so he can start making more money from the Reebok deal and potentially in salary as well.

"No rush," he said. "I plan on being in the UFC for a long time. I think too many people make the mistake of jumping up into the deeper end of the division. I'm not necessarily saying I'm not ready for that. I just want to take my time, take it slow, get some wins, get my purses to go up a little bit and just win some money."

Case has high hopes for the Reebok deal. He wants the uniform agreement to vault the UFC into mainstream sponsor conversations. He wants to believe UFC brass when they say it'll be for the long-term betterment of the sport. Fighters are getting hit in the short term, though, and that much is undeniable. Case thinks he knows why more aren't taking a tangible stand.

"We need to fight to make money," Case said. "Most of us aren't very well off. To make a stand and sit out for a fight, it hurts us. It hurts us as much as it hurts the UFC, because we're making a living on that income that we so desperately need. To be honest, I think it's gonna take the government getting involved. It's gonna take a higher level than the fighters."

Someone with his upside on the open market would have significant value. But Case said he'll never test free agency. For all its faults, the UFC is where he wants to be, because he has designs on being the best in the world at lightweight. Right now, the UFC is only place where that can legitimately happen.

"I'm very happy with the UFC," Case said. "I worked my ass off to get here and I'll be damned if I'm just gonna piss it away. I'm happy being employed in the UFC. I'm just gonna do what I can do and if that means I gotta do more signings or more fighter-fan intros on the side to make more money, then that's what I've gotta do."