נילי בלאק
Nili Block
Nili Block

Israeli mixed martial artist is fighting her way to the top

After winning world championships in Muay Thai and kickboxing, Nili Block is now setting her sights on the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts, hoping to be a pioneer who shatters misconceptions that the combat sport is not for women

Tomer Ganor |
Published: 05.29.21 , 18:56
Nili Block is on her way to making history again.
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  • The Israeli athlete, a five-time Muay Thai and one-time Kickboxing world champion, announced she was transitioning to Mixed Martial Arts.
    And if all goes to plan, she will in 2022 become the first Israeli woman to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the likes of Ireland's Conor McGregor and America's Jon Jones rose to fame.
    Friends and supporters of the 26-year-old Block say she will become a world champion there too.
    Block first considered the idea to compete in the UFC three years ago after accomplishing every competitive goal she had set for herself.
    She and personal coach Benny Cogan began researching competitors who came from contact sports such as boxing, Muay Thai and taekwondo and transitioned to the UFC competitions. These include former Muay Thai world champion Valentina Shevchenko, now the unmatched champion in the women's Flyweight division.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Valentina Shevchenko wins at the UFC
    Valentina Shevchenko wins at the UFC
    Valentina Shevchenko wins at the UFC
    (Photo: AP)
    Block fought against Shevchenko, already a world champion Muay Thai fighter, when she was just 19 years old.
    "I remember the hype around Ronda Rousey a few years ago," Block says. "She was a pioneer among woman at the UFC and that image remains in my mind."
    "I knew that the day would come when I would want to compete there. Now I can already envision a rematch with Shevchenko," she says.
    If and when Block makes the move, she will be earning substantially more money than she is now. As an Israeli athlete she relies on a NIS 3,000 monthly stipend from the Federation of Non-Olympic Competitive Sports, but MMA competitions and broadcast contracts are far more lucrative in the U.S. and champions can earn millions of dollars from sponsorship deals.
    Block has already been offered contracts by the UFC when she was in the U.S. for training. The organization favors athletes with a good story and the fact that Block is Israeli and very popular could bring more Jewish viewers to the championships.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    נילי בלאק בזירה
    נילי בלאק בזירה
    Nili Block in the Muay Thai ring in 2019
    (Photo: Oz Mualem)
    "Of course the financial considerations play a part but most of all I am an athlete in it for the sport," Block says. "Being the first Israeli woman there could be great, and just like I was a pioneer in Muay Thai I could be one in MMA.
    Five times a week, Block trains with Gabriel Kitober in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and five time every week she wrestles against leading athletes.
    During a visit to the U.S. last year she also participated in wrestling workshops alongside world renowned athletes like Brazilian Amanda Ribas.
    Block says she want to come to the UFC prepared to win and has heard of many leading fighters who disappeared soon after they joined the competitions.
    Coach Cogan agrees.
    "When we were in the States we saw how well Block performed against others, but we also saw how much she still has to learn. We are preparing by learning from our mistakes and will first compete in smaller venues and build from there," he says.
    "I have every confidence that she will be able to beat Shevchenko and win a title."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    נילי בלאק
    נילי בלאק
    Nili Block
    (Photo: Oz Mualem)
    Block says transitioning to a new field of sport is frightening, but it will not be her first time.
    "I was involved in various sports and until I was 16 years old, I played [American] football. I had to leave the team to concentrate my efforts on Muay Thai. I know there is no guarantee of success, but I know what I am capable of and what I am willing to sacrifice for my dream," she says.
    Block was injured last November and is now recovering from surgery on her leg.
    "Many things were delayed by my injury and the coronavirus pandemic," she says.
    "I want to shatter the misconception that martial arts is not for women," she says.

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