The MMA world was stunned recently as they learned of the sudden passing of former UFC fighter, and current Bellator contender, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Johnson, 38, returned to the octagon in 2021 at Bellator 258 after an unexpected retirement from the UFC in 2017.
Leopardi and Johnson made headlines in 2021 when Forbes covered the return of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson led by what was Bellator MMA’s first-ever NFT release. The architect of the deal was producer turned media founder Eric Leopardi, whose firm Brand Brain Media managed the release. The NFT release started to catch fire after Leopardi cold-emailed billionaire mogul Mark Cuban, ultimately landing an invitation from Cuban to host the release on his new Lazy.com platform.
Asked about Johnson’s death, Leopardi said, “It’s heartbreaking. AJ was a really good guy.” When pushed about rumors of a possible second release, he said, “I hadn’t talked to him in several months. He hadn’t shared with me how sick he was. It caught me totally by surprise.”
Leopardi met Johnson through a mutual friend a few years earlier and was already in talks with Johnson on a new travel TV series when the idea was born. “There’s deals you have to fight for, and there are ones that just fall together. AJ’s NFT deal was one of those where everything just clicked right from the beginning,” said Leopardi in a conversation with CaliPost.
NFTs took the world by storm in the years following 2015, after the first NFT project “Etheria” gained popularity. Fast-forward to 2022, and Cubans Dallas Mavericks are said to be exploring using NFTs to fight ticket piracy. Celebrity after celebrity has landed lucrative NFT deals, with the largest NFT sale on record netting a staggering $91.8 million. However, with a quickly shifting economy and a housing market tightening up, NFT sales have declined by nearly 92% since March 2022 with clear signs they may continue to shrink in value. For now, they seem to be a thing of the past, but any collectible once pulling in high eight-figure sums is worth watching out for in the future.