Mixed martial artist known as 'the Israeli Batman' is planning his second act
MMA fighter Haim Gozali may be retiring from the sport, but he reveals why he'll be returning to the ring in a new interview.
Ever since Haim Gozali was a teenager, he was obsessed with Batman. Decades later, a man in middle age, his body is covered in tattoos. Emblazoned across his chest, like a light shining above Gotham City, is an image of the iconic Batman symbol.
Gozali's home is filled with Batman paraphernalia: a mask from one the Batman movies, utility belts, figurines and shelves of comic books. His home in the coastal town of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, is more than a shrine to a fictional superhero. It is the training ground for Gozali himself, a world-renowned mixed martial artist. At matches in Bulgaria, Russia and the United States, he is known by his nom de plume: The Israeli Batman.
What first attracted Gozali, now 46, to his lifelong hero was that Batman didn't actually possess any superhero qualities. He didn't fly like Superman or have super-senses like Spider-Man. Batman just used the tools at his disposal and learned to fight. So at the age of six, Gozali began attending karate classes. At 16, he started studying jiu-jitsu – a fighting technique used by Batman as early as the 1940s in the famed Detective Comics. At 21, a friend from America sent him a videotape of the upstart Ultimate Fighting Championships, known as the UFC. Here was an organization that was combining various disciplines – boxing, Muay Thai and judo just to name a few – under one umbrella. Gozali was mesmerized. He went to the United States to learn more and landed in New York, where he studied under tutelage of the legendary fighter Renzo Gracie.
Since then, he has risen in the ranks in the world of MMA fighters, representing Israel at matches all across the globe. Earlier this month, he performed at Madison Square Garden. "It was a crazy feeling," he told From The Grapevine when we reached him by phone. "To go to Madison Square Garden and see the Israeli flag all over the place? And it's just me. It's not a football team, it's not a soccer team, it's not a basketball team. It's just me, fighting."
Gozali trains two to five hours each day. In addition to that, he works with a sports psychologist on a regular basis. "I need to train my brain like I'm training my body," he said. "I study how to teach my head to be calm, not to be afraid, to know how to think. And not to go with the monkey head and start to think about crazy stuff."
Gozali's dedication has inspired his 18-year-old son, Aviv, who has decided to join the family business and become a mixed martial artist on the professional level. With the help of his father, the younger Gozali has himself excelled. Earlier this year, he broke MMA history by downing an opponent in a mere 11 seconds. In something of a homecoming, the two appeared together at an event in Tel Aviv last week, drawing 8,000 screaming fans to the Menora Mivtachim Arena. It was the same location where acts like Cirque du Soleil and Jerry Seinfeld have performed. Both Gozalis won their matches that night, with Aviv again winning in record time.
For Haim, the event near his hometown held special resonance. It was his last as a professional MMA fighter. He announced plans to retire from the sport. He wants to focus his efforts on promoting MMA events in Israel. But like the cinematic "Rocky," he does plan on returning to the ring. "I'm the real Rocky," he said with a laugh.
While he may be done competing as an MMA fighter, Gozali already has his eyes set on a comeback. "I want to do a bare knuckle fight," he said, which is essentially a boxing match without gloves. His goal, for now, is to compete in one such event in the U.S. sometime next year. He's already prepping himself. Asked if it's harder than regular boxing, he responds nonchalantly, "I don't know."
But for Gozali, like his hero Batman, not much scares him. "I want to try it. It's a challenge for me because it's a new sport," he explained. "I'm a fighter and I want to fight."
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