When Johnny Case got the call from the UFC to step up on just a couple of weeks notice to debut against Joe Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night in San Antonio, Texas, he couldn’t say yes fast enough. With a 13-4 record and fighting since 2007, Case knew that this was his chance to prove he could go with the best in the world and there’s no place better to do that than the UFC.
And then the bottom fell out from under him.
Just days after Case signed his contract and accepted the bout, he was pulled from the matchup due to failing his pre-fight medicals required by the UFC and state athletic commissions to receive a license to compete.
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"I was out there helping Jeremy (Stephens) getting ready for his fight, training hard and everything was looking good and they gave me the chance to fight (Joe) Ellenberger and I was super pumped as you could imagine. I was in shape and ready to fight and then they told me I got pulled from the physical with my eye being messed up and that was really depressing, really devastating to me, and it just sucked really bad," Case told FOX Sports recently. "I just moped around for a week. Everything just felt like a big build up to nothing."
They discovered I had a torn retina actually in my left eye. I was in there with the UFC doctor and he was like wow that’s pretty bad, how did you not notice that?
— Johnny Case
Case was heartbroken thinking his dream of competing in the UFC just turned into a nightmare with the two events taking place within about a 72-hour timespan. As melancholy as he was about being pulled from the fight, the news he got from the UFC appointed doctor about his eye came as a shock and a wakeup call.
It turns out Case actually had a torn retina in his left eye following a bout he had last October that was never diagnosed.
"They discovered I had a torn retina actually in my left eye. I’m not sure when I got it, but after my last fight I kind of noticed some bright flashing light in my peripheral vision. It happened like four or five days after the fight and I just kind of wrote it off and thought it was a concussion because I did take a pretty good knee in that fight. My eyes weren’t blurry and there was no cloudy vision and then it went away and I just kind of forgot about it," Case said.
"I was in there with the UFC doctor and he was like wow that’s pretty bad, how did you not notice that?"
Due to the torn retina, the UFC was forced to pull Case from the fight, but there was a silver lining awaiting him once the situation was fully resolved. The UFC offered to pay for the surgery Case needed to repair the torn retina while also keeping him on the roster with a multi-fight contract.
Case didn’t receive the injury while fighting for the UFC or even training for a UFC fight, but they offered to make sure he got the best care possible, and a couple of days later he was having the surgery that would eventually allow him to make his debut inside the Octagon.
Now a few weeks removed from having his eye surgery, Case has signed to fight in Japan at the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Saitama headlined by Roy Nelson against Mark Hunt. Even better than that, Case can actually see far better than he did before and as it turns out the torn retina could have been an issue he’s been dealing with prior to the damage suffering in his last fight in 2013.
"Since I got the repair, it has improved my peripheral vision by like a good 10 degrees," Case said. "It’s pretty amazing. I used to have a lot of problems with overhand rights like getting the timing down and now I’m starting to think I didn’t see the punch coming with this eye injury."
Case is over the moon with excitement that not only did the UFC offer to pay for his surgery because as a newcomer to the promotion he’s not exactly flush with cash right now, but they also booked him for the card in Japan and considering he’s never fought anywhere outside the United States, this is something he could have never imagined just a month ago.
"Everything happens for a reason and it’s been a blessing in disguise," Case said. "The UFC paid for all my surgery, they gave me a four-fight contract anyway and now I’m making my debut in Tokyo, Japan. For me it doesn’t get any better than that. Now we have a full 11 week camp to get ready and that gives me all the confidence in the world."