Noad Lahat claimed his first UFC win on Saturday night, though was soon getting ready for a potentially much bigger fight – as he boarded a flight back to Israel to make himself available for the IDF.
The 30-year-old, the second Israeli-born fighter to compete in UFC, beat Steven Siler in a featherweight bout on a unanimous points decision, though admitted his sole thoughts were back home in Israel.
Speaking after his win in San Jose, he said: “It’s been hard trying to focus on my fighting with what’s going on in Israel. I haven’t had an entire night’s sleep for the past two months, I’ve been waking up every hour checking my phone to see if I got any messages to see if my family, friends, or even the army had called me.
“These past two months have been the worst I’ve ever had. I’ve been to the gym, sparring, but have just been thinking about Israel. I would wake up in the morning and look straight at the computer, thinking to myself I’m running late, I need to run. The only thing I’ve had in my mind has been my family, my friends, my country.
“I considered leaving before the fight, I knew if my unit got called to go back, I’d be on the plane the next day. They’re trying to get a ceasefire, Hamas keep saying no, so I’m just waiting. I’m obviously in good shape, all I knew in the back of my head was that I couldn’t get hurt here [in this fight].
“I’m having fun here – this is fun, this is a job, but I’ll have nowhere to go back home if I don’t go there (to fight). If me and my friends, my brothers-in-arms, won’t go to defend my country, we’ll have nowhere to go.
“As a combat soldier, there’s nothing I want more in the world than peace. I don’t want to see more killing and more blood. The only blood (should be) in the octagon.”
Having served in the Israeli army for three-and-a-half years as part of a paratrooper unit, he also revealed why he had no qualms about returning home as soon as he would be needed. He said: “There was no doubt about going back, if my unit called me I go home. Just the thought of my grandma – she’s more than 80 years old and has 15 seconds to run to a shelter. I’m here safe and it’s just messed up, it shouldn’t happen. I should be there helping them. They tell me to stay here and bring them some moral support, so I knew there was no way I was going to lose this fight.”
Admitting he hates the thought of fighting, though feeling a sense of duty to do so, he said: “I’m not going there because I want to or love it, I hate doing that, wearing the uniform, holding a weapon, it’s not fun when someone’s shooting at you but is something you have to do. I can’t tell you how much I hate it, I love training and fighting in the cage, I don’t want to see my friends hurt. My sister’s a paramedic, my older brother’s is in the special forces, my 17-year-ol brother’s about to join too, I don’t want them to get hurt. I lost a few friends and it’s not easy.”
Revealing the trip back will though afford him the chance to have a ‘proper’ marriage with his wife – earlier than planned, he said: “My wife will travel to Israel after me. We were going back in August to have a Jewish wedding anyway, I promised my family I’d go back and do it properly, the second I heard what was going on, I thought we could even push it forward a bit”.
Reflecting on the fight, he said losing was never an option given his last one which he described as being ‘a disaster’. “I don’t even remember how it ended,” he said, “so I knew I had to get a win no matter what. I got it but it wasn’t easy, it was really hard, really tough.”
Spurred on in the crowd by his wife’s family and friends, his side of the family were watching back home on TV. “My family were watching at home – though I’m not sure about my mum – after the last one she said she wouldn’t watch it and I couldn’t blame her!