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Noad Lahat: If Israel loves MMA ‘half as much’ as soccer, Bellator will do ‘really great’

UFC veteran and featherweight talent Noad Lahat spoke to Bloody Elbow about his upcoming Bellator debut and being part of the first major MMA event in Israel.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Lahat vs Rivas Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

For some fighters, leaving the UFC can lead them to an opportunity they might never have gotten inside the promotion. For Matt Mitrione, it was a chance to call fights for Bellator Kickboxing, for Shane Carwin it was a chance to fight in an openweight grand prix, and for Noad Lahat, it’s a chance to fight in his home country, Israel.

“Neo” is gearing up for his Bellator debut on Thursday, November 10th in Tel Aviv, Israel. The former UFC featherweight went 2-2 in the Octagon, scoring solid wins over Niklas Backstrom and Steven Siler, while also dropping shocking upset losses to Godofredo Pepey and Diego Rivas. After his last loss, he found a better contract offer with Bellator.

“I've been in the UFC and I loved being in the UFC,” Lahat said about his change in promotion, “but I saw better opportunities with Bellator, for me. And I loved fighting for the UFC, but I'm really happy and excited to fight right now in Bellator and especially in this show. This is something that probably wouldn't happen in the other organization. For Bellator to come and start their international shows and in the first round they put Israel in, I think it's pretty amazing.”

And while Isreal is not yet known as a hotbed for MMA competition, Lahat hopes that it can become a regular home for Bellator, as the promotion has plans to run multiple shows in the country.

“I definitely hope so,” Lahat said, when asked if he felt Israel would take to MMA. “I know we sold out the arena and I know Bellator is planning on coming back next year. So, it's definitely not going to be just one show and over. I really hope so... I really hope it will turn into... If half as much as they love soccer they love MMA, we'll do really great.”

When it comes to changes, promotion isn’t the only move that Lahat has made. He’s no longer fighting out of AKA in San Jose, choosing instead to move camp to Las Vegas and Xtreme Couture.

“I feel like I've been at AKA for a long time,” explained Lahat, “so I got what I could there and I needed other stuff I couldn't get. And also, the area there is crazy expensive, Silicon Valley. And I saw no reason why I need to live in a two bedroom apartment that was worth $850,000 when I could get a house in Vegas for much much less. I have my son now and that's around the time he stared walking and it was time for me to get a house so he can run around, and have fun, and we can put him in the pool if we want to. To get the same quality in San Jose, quality of life, it's really really difficult.”

While he may have moved camps to save on costs, Lahat stills wants to make it clear that money isn’t his principal motivation for fighting. He’s here because he loves it, not because it’s the best way to pay the bills.

“It's always been about having fun,” Lahat said of his current career goals. “And as long as I'm having fun I keep doing it. When it stops being fun, I'll stop doing it. It's not... MMA will never be something that I have to be in for the... There are other ways to make money, it was never about that. I love what I do and it's truly difficult for me to imagine myself doing something else.

“All the time you put in the gym, if you don't like it, it will break you. You have to love it, you have to enjoy your time in the gym or you're just going to be miserable.”

“Oh no,” Lahat reassured when asked if he was making money with other work than MMA, “that's what I do to pay the bills: MMA. What I'm saying is that's not the reason that I do it. I enjoy the money from MMA. It's a good paycheck for one night of work, but it's not a career that I choose because it has great benefits and the health insurance is great, my 401k will be really good at the end. It's something that you do because you're crazy and you know you give it all.”

The 32-year old has been fighting sporadically since 2008, while also maintaining his role as a Paratrooper reservist in the Israeli military. It’s a choice that’s been both a great source of pride for Lahat, as well as an early barrier for his MMA career.

“I think a few years of my training when I was young, at the age of 18, and I got into the military, yeah, it took a big chunk of my career, years that I could have developed,” Lahat said. “But at the same time, it made me the man I am. I would never change that, what I did. And I think that there's two things that every man has to do in his life to be a man, they have to fight once and at least go through military training. And I've done both, so I'm pretty proud of that.”

But, despite past setbacks, he’s all set to face Scott Cleve at Bellator 164 this week. Lahat sounds confident and has devised a pretty simple strategy for getting the win.

“Nothing special,” Lahat said of his game plan for the Cleve fight. “I'm just going to punch him in the face as hard as I can. And avoid getting punched, I think that's the key to success in this fight.”

Bellator 164 will be broadcast in the US on tape delay, on Spike TV, Friday, November 11th at 9pm. You can follow Noad Lahat on Twitter @Neo_MMA

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