Emil Meek, everyone’s favourite living, breathing, fighting embodiment of the Vikings is on the comeback trail.
“Valhalla” achieved a life-time goal in getting picked up by the UFC following his stunning victory over Brazil’s much-maligned Rousimar Palhares.
Life in the UFC got off to the perfect start for a man like Meek. He took on Canada’s Jordan Mein in his UFC debut, who was a near 40-fight veteran at the time despite only being 27-years-old.
The Norwegian broke his rib in the first round, something Meek described as “awesome” to me in our interview, before battling through the pain barrier to secure a comprehensive unanimous decision victory in his favour.
But it’s been a tough road for Meek since. After Mein, he went on to face Kamaru Usman, who is now your reigning UFC welterweight champion, at a time when few others wanted to take on that challenge. Meek comfortably looked the handier striker on the feet, but Usman’s wrestling was the difference maker as he ground out a decision win.
That aforementioned broken rib was a sign of what lay ahead of Meek in his MMA career. He has suffered a laundry list of injuries since his fight with Usman, culminating in a number of fight cancellations and an admittedly below-par performance put in against Poland’s Bartosz Fabinski in July 2018.
Meek’s body hasn’t let him get ready for a fight since. But, after some careful rehabbing and the patience shown by his team and the UFC allowing himself to heal properly, Valhalla believes he is ready to set foot in the cage again.
“It started off with a bang, getting to beat a legend like Jordan Mein with a broken rib from the first round. It felt like I had the world at my feet,” Meek said when reflecting on his time on the UFC roster.
“Then I got Kamaru Usman, who was my first ranked opponent – no one else wanted it – I stepped up and asked for it. It didn’t go my way, but I still feel proud to have shared the cage with such a good guy who is now champion.
“Then the sh*t show started with injuries after that. To be honest, since the Usman fight until now, I have been struggling with so much sh*t. I had a horrible Fabinski fight, someone who I should beat with one hand behind my back. I didn’t, so that’s a result I have to live with the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter, I am now finally back and I am ready to put on some good fights again. It’s finally my time again.”
While Meek now feels ready to return to the Octagon, he also finds himself at a career crossroads.
His next contest will be the last on his current contract with the UFC. He is not closing ranks on the idea of fighting elsewhere, but he is also pretty clear on where he wants to continue fighting.
“I am an open-minded guy and would say I’m at least averagely-smart, but the UFC is the place I want to be,” Meek told me in his usual effervescent, refreshing candour. “Let’s be honest, it’s the promotion with the highest skill level, where the most people watch – and that’s the best, most-fun part of it for me.
“I want to be one of the guys who has been around in the UFC for a while with a reputation, to be known for what he’s achieved in the UFC Octagon and not any other cage.”
To do that, he needs a willing dance partner. One name which has popped up in conversation with Meek is one Diego Sanchez.
Sanchez is currently not tied to a UFC contract following the final fight on his deal coming and going against Michael Chiesa in July. Given Sanchez’s penchant for spectacular fights, longevity in the sport, and his recent career resurgence, the idea of a fight between him and Meek is an attractive proposition for the latter as long as the Albuquerque native re-signs with the UFC. Sanchez has also registered an interest in the bout.
Brazil’s Demian Maia could have thrown a bit of a spanner in the works, though. He called out Sanchez following his win over Ben Askren last Saturday in Singapore. Sanchez is, unsurprisingly, also up for that fight as you’d expect from a character like him.
However, Meek is certain his idea to do battle with Sanchez makes the most sense for both men and, on a personal note, such a fight would help Meek tick off something from his bucket list.
“It’s a fight that’s good for him. It’s a fight that’s good for me. It’s a fight that’s good for the UFC. It’s definitely a fight that’s good for the fans. This fight cannot be boring. It’s impossible,” Meek said with his special brand of unrivalled enthusiasm. “At the weigh ins we’ll be screaming at each other. In the fight we’ll be screaming at each other. At the end we’ll be raising each other’s arms and just be happy because we made something epic out of it. I know Norway will explode if we got this fight.
“I am a fan of the sport. When I started training, I was watching The Ultimate Fighter season one. He was the winner of season one – that’s the kind of legend he is. A lot of people started watching MMA after Conor McGregor, but Sanchez is a true legend. He’s been around for ages and has done it all. Of course, he is batsh*t crazy which I just love. The press conferences, everything – it would be a huge entertaining show with him.
“Something on my bucket list is to go toe-to-toe with a UFC legend in the Octagon. I want the belt, I want to be on the Joe Rogan podcast, I want an open workout and I want to fight a legend like Diego.”
Whether Valhalla gets his wish of fighting Sanchez or not, Meek’s return to UFC action will be must-see MMA as he fights for his future in the promotion. Meek is one of the sport’s most colourful characters and the UFC talent roster is better off with him around than not.