UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, but the next destination for one of its athletes is shaping up to be the real ultimate fight in comparison with his usual in-cage brawls.
Noad Lahat, 30, is leaving the U.S. temporarily to help defend his family and friends in Israel, which has been under fire from Hamas rockets more than 2,500 times in the past three weeks.
Noad Lahat, right, from Israel, grapples with Steven Siler during the second round of a featherweight mixed martial arts bout at a UFC event in San Jose, Calif., July 26, 2014. Lahat won by unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The Israeli-born athlete said he's traveling to back to his native country to rejoin his Israel Defense Forces unit as a reserve soldier if it is mobilized for the fight against Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
"I'm having fun here. This is fun. This is a job," Lahat said in a post-game interview Saturday. "But I'll have nowhere to go back home if I don't go there. If me and my friends, my brothers-in-arms, won't go to defend my country, we'll have nowhere to go. It's something I really don't want to do. I want to stay here and have fun and enjoy the rest of the week after two really tough months, but man, I'm going to have to go, otherwise I'm not going to have a home."
Lahat told CNN that two of his siblings are currently serving in the military: his sister as a medic and his brother in a special forces unit.
“I need to go home because just the thought of my grandma, she’s more than 80 years old and she has 15 seconds to run to get a shelter … and I’m here safe,” he told CNN. “It’s messed up, it shouldn’t happen. I should be there helping them.”
Like other men in his homeland where there is a universal draft for men and women, Lahat served for more than three years in the IDF.
“As a combat soldier, there's nothing I want more in the world than peace. I don't want to see my younger brother go in the army. … I don't want to see more killing and more blood the only blood should be in the octagon,” Lahat said in an interview quoted by the website MMA Mania.
The news from back home has taken an emotional toll on the martial arts fighter.
"The thing is, the whole last month and a half it’s been crazy,” Lahat told the website MMA Fighting. “My family has about 15 seconds every time an alarm goes off to take a shelter from missiles. And for us, it’s not some faraway war on the other side of the world. It’s by my home. I need to go protect my family, protect my country, protect my future."
My heart is with my brothers going to war in Gaza. And I'm seating here waiting for my call to join them. The good will overcome the evil— noad lahat (@noad lahat)1405655366.0
On Twitter, Lahat posts not only about his fighting career, but he regularly retweets comments supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. Sometimes, the issues overlap, like these comments he retweeted mocking the United Nations Human Rights Council’s decision to investigate Israeli actions in Gaza while giving Hamas a pass and the Obama administration's handling of the crisis:
UFC fighter @Neo_MMA won last night. As the only Jew on the card, he was blasted for using disproportionate force (@MichaelPodwill's joke).— David B. Cohen (@David B. Cohen)1406472668.0
@DavidBCohen1 @Neo_MMA @MichaelPodwill Now UNHRC will pass a resolution against him— laxk (@laxk)1406473142.0
Lahat said he’s “beyond miserable” to be watching the Middle East news from so far away.
"As soon as they call my unit, I’m in," Lahat said. "I’m going to join my brothers, the same people I served with for years. And there’s no other way for me. And for me to be here, not at home right now, it’s something that…it’s beyond miserable."
"The only time I could take my mind off of that was in the gym sparring," he said. "Other than that, I am watching news or on the phone with friends and family all the time. It’s been a hard camp."
Watch this report from CNN on Lahat's decision: