MMA fighter Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s big comeback fight has finally arrived, but all he wants to talk about is his newest passion: non-fungible tokens.
“I think NFT is a grand slam,” said Johnson, a former UFC superstar who will be stepping back into the cage for first time in four years when he fights on Friday at Bellator 258 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The same day of his comeback, Johnson will release his flagship NFT collectible on lazy.com, an NFT art gallery and marketplace that billionaire Mark Cuban launched in March.
“To be the first Bellator fighter to have a collection, it’s a big honor for me,” Johnson said. “And on top of it, to have it with Mark Cuban and lazy.com, I’m still in shock with the whole thing.”
Cuban sees the same exploding trend with NFTs that Johnson sees. “There is no limit to the applications that can be created,” Cuban exclusively told Forbes in an email. “What we are seeing now with collectibles is just the beginning.” And a catalyst behind lazy.com, Cuban said, is “to make it easy for anyone to share their NFTs with whoever they choose.”
Recent metrics on NFTs tell the story of its explosion. By the end of this year’s first quarter, the combined market cap of major NFT projects had increased by 1,785%. NFTs can be works of art, sports collectibles, video footage or even tweets or news articles linked to a digital record — or blockchain — that enables the collector to prove ownership. The NBA has leaped into NFTs by creating a market called Top Shot, which has more than 800,000 users and about $500 million in sales. And the UFC is reportedly planning its own NFT collection.
Johnson realized the power of NFTs when UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s NFTs reportedly sold for more than his recent $500,000 title fight purse. And when Johnson’s business partner said “we need to take NFTs seriously,” Johnson made the commitment to produce NFT collectibles for his fans.
That business partner is Eric Leopardi, a TV producer with Brand Brain Media which is co-creating a non-scripted television series with Johnson. The show is called “Life Untamed: Colorado,” and it will star Johnson and air on NBCSN.
Leopardi quickly engaged a team to produce NFTs of Johnson. He said Johnson is an ideal fighter for an NFT investment because he’s “a guy fight fans and other fighters hold in tremendous regard.” It also doesn’t hurt that Johnson is a former main-event attraction who will soon cross over to a national TV show while still competing in Bellator. “I think there’s a whole other life for Rumble,” Leopardi added.
Once Johnson’s NFT design samples were created, Leopardi made his biggest move: He cold emailed Mark Cuban, not expecting a response. But — shockingly — Cuban replied within 24 hours. And an even bigger shocker: Cuban invited Leopardi to sell Johnson’s NFTs on lazy.com.
“If Mark Cuban says to do it, I’m not turning down anything but my collar,” Leopardi said. “I’m going for it.”
Leopardi didn’t reveal too much about Johnson’s NFT before its Friday debut, but said it will include “a top-tier level with a personalized experience.”
Now, Johnson — at age 37 — will shift all focus to Friday night’s fight, which will be his first since he lost to UFC legend Daniel Cormier in their 2017 rematch; their first bout two years earlier had the same result.
Johnson’s opponent on Friday will be Jose Augusto Azevedo Barros in the first round of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Barros is a replacement for Yoel Romero, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament after not passing his pre-fight medicals.
Johnson said his ultimate goal, aside from an NFT jackpot, is to fight for a world title again, saying: “I want to keep making history, keep entertaining, and keep making guys shake in their boots.”