Emil Meek Fulfills His Viking Destiny by Losing His Axe and His Beard in Canada

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend was a real roller coaster of emotions for Emil Meek. The charismatic middleweight won his UFC debut with a convincing unanimous decision over Jordan Mein, and for many in the media the 28-year-old was the best story of UFC 206. Last November he was fighting a little-known Belgian journeyman named Christophe Van Dijck for a Swedish promotion called Battle of Botnia, and a year later he was on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view event, a star born, already being called by some the Norwegian Conor McGregor.

But despite the successful coming-out party, all was not well in the world of Emil Meek. Before he could even step into the Octagon on Saturday, the Ontario Athletic Commission and the UFC were conspiring to strip the man called “Valhalla” of his most cherished and recognizable affectations: the long beard and two-bladed axe that have been Meek’s professional calling card and his talismanic connection to the warmongering legacy of his country’s Viking past. On Thursday the commission invoked Title 13, Chapter 46, Subchapter 24A, Section 10, sub-clause (a) of their official MMA Rules, which states that “All contestants shall be cleanly shaven immediately prior to competition, except that a contestant may wear a closely cropped mustache”—and demanded Meek trim back his beard, lest Mein grab it mid-fight. And a day later Meek was told by the UFC that he couldn’t bring his beloved axe to any media day events or the fight itself. And like that, all of Meek’s trademark Viking-ness had been stripped away.

Well, apparently you can take the burly beard and axe away from the Viking but you can’t take the Viking out of the man, a point proven by Meek’s dominating, fire-breathing, ground-and-pound-filled beating of a very talented Mein. Meek may have looked less the part of the Viking but he was every inch the kind of wild marauder his ancestors would have honored.

Unfortunately this Viking’s run-in with the delicate sensibilities of modern life (or at least the delicate sensibilities of modern Canadian life) didn’t end with his victory in the cage. To add insult to insult, on Monday authorities at the airport in Toronto forbade the Meek from taking his axe through customs on his way back home. That’s right: a Viking warrior, his chest still filled with the air of victory in combat, was not allowed to return home with his axe in his hands, Instead it had to left behind, perched against some sliding door on a bland tile floor in some anonymous, lifeless corporate antechamber, like a sad tableau of emasculated life in the 21 century, a symbol of a conquering hero conquered by bureaucracy.

Well, we’d like to tell Emil Meek not to lose heart. After all, he wouldn’t be the first old-school warrior laid low by the dehumanizing forces of late-capitalism, forces possessed of powers beyond comprehension. And he was returning to Norway, where axes are a religion. Likely the UFC welterweight was able to buy himself a brand-new one as soon as he landed at the Trondheim Airport.

As for the indignity of the shaved beard, it turns out the vision we have of marauding Viking hordes raping and pillaging Europe from behind wild, unkempt facial hair is a myth. According to several archeological sources—including a carved male head found in an excavated 9th-century ship burial mound near Tønsberg, Norway—Vikings actually kept their beards well-groomed and oftentimes short. In fact, Viking warriors were known at the time not just for their war-time savagery but for being extra-fastidious in their appearance, combing their hair every day, bathing once a week, and changing their clothes frequently, all as a means of seducing the married women and daughters of the noblemen whose lands they conquered. At numerous Viking architectural sites, scientists have found tweezers, combs, nail cleaners, ear cleaners, and other tools for personal grooming. Vikings, it turns out, were both fighters and fops.

In fact some historians have theorized that some Vikings kept their beards short because they were such avid fighters. They knew from experience that a long beard could be grabbed onto and used against them during a battle. So, in their way, the regulators of the Ontario Athletic Commission were actually helping Meek become more like his Viking ancestors, not less, when they forced him to shave.

And besides, Emil, you wouldn’t be the first Viking flustered by Canada. Yes, your ancestors plundered and pillaged and mauled their way though Britain and France and Constantinople and Russia and Ukraine. They even populated Iceland and established settlements in Greenland 500 years before Christopher Columbus ever looked west across the Atlantic. But attempts to colonize and settle in what is now Canada repeatedly failed. In 1960 a 1000-year-old settlement was discovered in 1960 on the Northern tip of Newfoundland showing that the Vikings had only stayed a few years. Battles with the native Skraeling people and discord among the early colonists conspired to dishearten the Viking explorers and force them back to Greenland, where life made sense. 

So take heart, Emil. Fighting with a trimmed beard in Canada and then returning home confused and disheartened is a tradition that lies deep down in the blood of your people. Even close-cut and even with your favorite weapon left behind in some lonely Canadian outpost, you’re still the very portrait of a Viking. 


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Emil Meek Is Looking to Put Norwegian MMA on the Map at UFC 206

Norway Finds Its Star: An Interview with Emil 'Valhalla' Meek