Ultimate Fighting Championship Signs Its Third-Ever Israeli Fighter
Natan Levy knew that for his dreams in the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon to become a reality, one of two things had to happen: he would have to submit his opponent or put him to sleep.
Fighting a taller and more muscular Shaheen Santana as part of Dana White’s Contender Series on ESPN+, Natan did the latter in the third round via a triangle choke. He signed his dream UFC contract as a result.
“I wasn’t scared to fight him, even though in my mind I was the complete underdog and it was like David vs. Goliath,” Levy said in a phone interview from Las Vegas. Santana, who is six-foot-one, submitted several of his past opponents — but Levy, who is five-foot-nine, was also undefeated in five previous fights.
“I felt it was my time,” said, Levy, 29, who stated that his contract will allow him to fight three or four times this year.
Levy said he was greatly inspired by the HBO show Game of Thrones and the saying that “chaos is a ladder,” so he knew to always be ready. He took the fight on only a few days notice, with little time to scout his opponent.
“With this being the time of COVID, I knew I could sit on my [butt], binge on Netflix, and get fat,” said Levy, who fought at 155 pounds. “But I trained every day; even when my gym was closed, I went to the park to make sure I was ready.”
He was training for a different fight when he got the call from UFC, and knew he had to take his shot.
“I was confident I would win. It’s a little bittersweet, because in this business, you may only get one chance so your dreams come true, but at the same time, you are crushing another man’s dreams,” he said, speaking of his opponent.
He said he took several COVID tests before the fight.
His fighting journey started at the age of 16, when he told his mother he was going to Okinawa, Japan to study karate.
“She laughed and didn’t think I was serious, but I got a plane ticket from my bar mitzvah money, and once she knew I was serious, she couldn’t say no.”
He is a third-degree black-belt who is well aware of the rough times Israelis have had in the UFC. Moti Horenstein lost twice to wrestlers Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr. Noad Lahat was 2-2, but Levy hopes to fair better. Levy said he spent seven years working on grappling and often trained for five hours a day.
When he moved to Las Vegas he was lonely and things were hard. He slept in a rented room, and some of his fights were cancelled at the last minute. He has a wife named Dana now, and his mother watches his fights afterward if she knows he won.
The former Herzliya resident said he hopes people will soon know his name — but that it was hard for UFC head Dana White to pronounce it. On the broadcast, White called him Nathan and said many of the UFC lawyers were excited to finally have an Israeli fighter who was good.
Levy said he was not offended by the comments.
He said he has only faced antisemitism online, when a friend of one of his opponents called him “zionist scum” and said he was gonna get murdered.
“After I won, I sent him a picture of my hand raised in victory and his friend down on the mat,” Levy said.
Levy, who has worked at a movie theater and a McDonald’s, says he mainly eats healthy food. He proposed to his wife in 2018, and she helped support him.
‘There’s nobody like her,” he said. “She also left Israel to be with me and has made a lot of sacrifices for me.” He also praised his coaches Jimmy Giff and John Wood.
Is he worried about pressure to do well?
“My strength is my calmness before the storm,” he said. “My coach John said, ‘Fighting is like a roller coaster. It’s a crazy ride. Don’t forget that you can choose to enjoy it or puke all over yourself and faint.'”
Alan Zeitlin is a writer and educator in New York.