Forty-five seconds. That’s all it took for Emil Meek to burst onto MMA’s world stage with a resounding knockout of knee surgeons’ worst nightmare Rousimar Palhares. That win, for Venator Fighting Championship in Italy, booked his ticket to the UFC 206 main card.
It was the final piece of the puzzle. The Norwegian now had a victory over an elite opponent to go with his all-action fighting style and the look of a true Viking warrior. And, as Fighters Only finds out, he’s got the infectiously energetic personality that means he’s got the full package to become a star. Just five minutes in his company makes you start counting the days until he makes his return to the Octagon.
He explains how he went from unknown to Octagon pin-up in the blink of an eye.
Q: Did you expect to make such an impact on the world stage so quickly?
Emil Meek: It felt like I deserved it. It didn’t feel like luck or that I was fortunate. It felt like I deserved to be where I was supposed to be. Of course, I took that shot fighting Palhares. I saw they were having trouble matching him and I was like, f**king give him to me. Give him to me. They asked the management of Palhares and they were like, ‘Sure, we’ll do it.’ The fight was on and I was so happy. I knew I could beat him if I did what I was supposed to do. I think I can beat almost anyone in the world if I do what I’m supposed to do.
Q: Did you expect that would be your ticket to the UFC?
EM: I was laying in bed and thinking, OK, if I beat this guy, my dream will come true. I’m going to get to the UFC. It happened. But it’s so different picturing it to actually living it. That’s a huge difference. Sometimes I try to think back and imagine what would have happened if he’d ripped my leg off. What if he’d f**king torn my ACL? Where would I be then? Would I be fighting still? Would I be anywhere near the UFC? Could I live doing this sport anymore? It’s a huge difference.
Q: How quick did you get the call from UFC matchmakers?
EM: I think I got it the same night. I couldn’t sleep at all – and I wasn’t drinking or partying or anything. I remember I was scrolling on my phone in bed and an email popped up – it was Joe Silva [former UFC matchmaker]. I’d been in contact with him before asking him to fight for the UFC and stuff like that. He texted me. Word by word, ‘Congrats on the nice win.’ That was it. I was like, OK, how should I reply to this? I said, ‘Do you want me to fight for you?’ He said yes.
The Norwegian was thrust straight onto the main card of UFC 206 a few months later, but was an underdog against Jordan Mein. Few expected him to win, but although he lost the first round it was a close, back-and-forth five minutes where both men traded bombs. From the second round on, Meek dominated the veteran of 39 pro fights with an outstanding display of grappling.
Unfortunately, the 29-year-old has had to wait to make his next conquest. Injury has blunted the vigorous Viking and stopped him from fighting in May, but as FO talks to him in a hotel lobby ahead of the UFC Glasgow weigh-ins, you can tell he is ready and itching to get back at it and put on another show.
Q: How frustrating is it to get in the UFC on the back of a great win, get another great win on a main card, then have to sit out with and injury?
EM: It’s really annoying. I’ve never really been bothered so much by injuries. I had one or two major injuries before. It definitely puts a stop to your momentum. It’s annoying because you can’t really train, you can’t really get better. Right now, I am back at full health and looking to get on the Madison Square Garden card if I can. That would be amazing. I want to fight a top-ranked opponent. That’s my goal.
Q: You were scheduled to fight Nordine Taleb. Do you want that fight again, or are you aiming higher?
EM: I always aim as high as I can. That’s why I took the Palhares fight. That was the hardest fight you could take outside the UFC. He was the welterweight champion of World Series of Fighting and I took him down and took the belt from him. I feel like I have proven myself before I got to the UFC. Nordine Taleb was a fighter I’d love to fight, of course. But, if I can, I’d like to fight the winner or loser of Thiago Alves vs. Mike Perry. Something like that would be amazing.
Q: Is that because you feel it would be as good for the fans as you?
EM: Oh yeah. I want to be the kind of fighter that I’d want to watch. I want to watch myself fight Thiago Alves. That would be a great fight. We’d be brawling and kicking each other in the legs until one of us falls. That’s fun to watch.
The crowd in Ontario, Canada, certainly had fun during the Mein fight. Afterwards, too, when Joe Rogan asked the victorious Viking how he felt: “My joint is f**ked, my rib is cracked, but I’m freaking awesome man!” Suddenly, everyone became a member of the ‘Valhalla Army’.
There was specifically one demographic that seemed to be particularly drawn to Meek – mixed martial arts’ female following. The social media and podcast sphere was bursting with blushing admirers of the bearded Scandinavian – despite one of his most prized assets being taken away from him on the day before the fight.
Q: How upset were you when the Ontario commission made you shave your beard off?
EM: I don’t want to fight in Canada just because of that. I loved Canada, it was great. It was super nice there. I really liked everybody there. But making me f**king cut my beard? It was horrible. I just had everything cut the day before. I was sitting there dehydrated, waiting for the weigh ins, on weight, and there’s this official guy who comes over to me and is like, ‘Emil, we need you to trim your beard.’ I was shoving him away. I was then being told, ‘Emil, he’s serious.’ I remember I was stood there with the fucking clipper and was thinking, this is so stupid. I was super gentle on the one side and then on the other side I thought I had it, so I was just going a little faster, and I took a big chunk out. I looked like s**t. On the one day when most people viewed me I looked like s**t. It was f**king annoying. I looked like a wet cat. I looked all skinny and broken.
Q: Did you know you got a lot of attention from female fans?
EM: Oh really? Oh! It’s true? [He raises his arms in triumph.] Yes!
Q: So it’s not like that in Norway?
EM: I get a lot of attention from guys. Everybody knows mostly guys are watching the UFC – 90% of the fans are guys. Also, I don’t know what it is, but females in their 40s and 50s are very attracted to me somehow. I think some of it is because they have kids who are 13 or 14 and I’m their biggest hero or whatever. They are always coming up to me and are like, ‘Can I have a picture? It’s for my kid.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t fool me.’
Q: Are you single right now?
Q: So you’ve had no luck back home?
EM: There was this one thing. Felice Herrig tweeted, ‘I like this Viking.’ That’s kind of why I’m here. She said I should be a guest fighter at UFC Glasgow. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll ask.’ I asked because she was coming here, but then she had some trouble with her passport. I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going but you’re not.’ She said she was so sorry. I’m here to date Felice, but she’s not here.
And with that, Fighters Only’s time with Emil Meek ends. He’s booked as one of the stars of the Glasgow fan Q&A event and needs to head off into a wet and windy Glasgow summer afternoon to buy a new outfit to look the part.
Not many people could upstage Kevin Lee’s cashmere cardigan and Gucci slippers on the SSE Arena stage, but Meek manages it by bounding out, shirtless, wearing nothing but a brand-new tartan kilt and hose socks. And even though he told FO he wouldn’t be a ‘true Scotsman’ by going commando in his traditional attire, he whips his boxers off with only the slightest encouragement from the hundreds of local fans in attendance. They all cheer as Lee and Dan Hardy fall into fits of laughter – and then ‘The Motown Phenom’ joins the fun by getting shirtless too. Like we said, his attitude is infectious.
Emil Meek is a born entertainer. Most importantly, he can do it in a cage while he’s winning high-level fights. His momentum might have slowed since he burst into the UFC, but expect him to be back, and putting on a show again very soon.
Pictures: Fabio Barbieri/Venator FC