The UFC has officially signed just the second Israeli-born fighter in its promotion's twenty-year history.
Noad Lahat (7-0) will make his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 38 on March 23 in Natal, Brazil against Godofredo Pepey (9-3), the promotion recently announced. The fight will be contested at 145 pounds.
Lahat (pictured, signing his new UFC contract), who now trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., will be the first Israeli to fight in the UFC since Moti "The Hammer" Horenstein (1-6) lost to Mark Coleman at UFC 10 in 1996 and Mark Kerr at UFC 14 in 1997. Ido Pariente (12-6), another Israeli, tried out for the eighth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2008, however, "The Hebrew Hammer" lost to eventual winner Efrain Escudero in the preliminary round.
"I’m really excited to have signed with the UFC and can’t wait for my first fight," Lahat stated in a press release issued by the promotion. "Getting this contract means that my years of hard work are finally paying off, but it’s also just the beginning of what I want to accomplish in the UFC and in my career. I’m an exciting fighter, I finish fights. I’m going to keep doing that and go out there and impress people.
"As the only Israeli fighter on the UFC roster I hope that my success will inspire and motivate fighters from my home country. I hope that I can connect with fans and be someone they cheer for and support. Having an Israeli fighting in the UFC will help educate people and grow the sport in the country."
Lahat, nicknamed "Neo," made his MMA debut in 2008 and joined AKA in 2009. He has finished six of his seven opponents and is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo. He also won the 2010 No-Gi BJJ World Championships as a brown belt in the featherweight division. Prior to becoming an MMA fighter, Lahat served in the Israeli army for three years.
Pepey, a finalist on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil" is currently 1-3 in the UFC. He's lone win inside the Octagon came via split decision against Milton Vieira at UFC on FX 7 in Jan. 2013.
By all accounts, MMA's popularity in Israel (pop. 7.9 million) appears to be growing, with all UFC programming currently broadcast on Sport 5 channel.
UFN 38 will be headlined by Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua 2.
Below is a video of Lahat's last fight against Shad Smith at BAMMA USA - Badbeat 10 in Aug. 2013.