Draped in an Israeli flag with a Star of David on his hat and a cut underneath his right eye, Israeli mixed martial arts fighter Noad “Neo” Lahat didn’t take his Saturday night win against Sweden’s Niklas Backstrom in Berlin lightly.
Addressing his fans in Hebrew, the fighter said he took to the ring with more than just the 8,155-member audience watching him.
“Thank you to everyone who came,” he said. “Here in Berlin, I know that 6 million are watching me. There was no chance I would lose.”
Lahat visited Holocaust memorial sites while in Berlin and said that fighting in Germany was an emotional experience for him. He welcomed the opportunity to showcase his Jewish heritage in Germany, he said in a pre-fight interview with MMA Junkie.
Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a combat sport that has moved toward the mainstream in the last 20 years, with championship events regularly selling out arenas. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, is the sport’s leading organization.
Lahat’s win during Saturday’s match at the 02 arena was controversial. Backstrom clearly won the first round, while Lahat dominated the second. Some MMA commentators thought Backstrom took the final round, which would given him the win.
“It was a really tough fight, I think the toughest I’ve had,” Lahat told British MMA commentator Dan Hardy. “He’s really skilled. He surprised me on the ground. I didn’t expect that.”
Lahat fought Backstrom in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s featherweight division. Backstrom came out strong in the first round, landing punches and threatening the Israeli with submission attempts.
Lahat came back to dominate the second round. He clobbered the Swede with punches and controlled him on the ground. After a close third round, Lahat was awarded a majority decision.
With the win, Lahat, the only Israeli on the UFC’s 564-man roster, improved his professional record to 9 wins and one loss.
The 31-year-old lost his UFC debut in March 2014, then defeated American Steven Siler last July. The next morning, he flew back to Israel to serve in his paratrooper reserve unit in Operation Protective Edge during the summer war in the Gaza Strip.
Lahat, who grew up in Alfei Menashe, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, entered the UFC’s octagon-shaped ring at Saturday night’s event to the song “Jerusalem” by Jewish rapper Matisyahu.