As reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor has established himself as the biggest pay-per-view (PPV) draw in MMA history (he has main-evented four out of the six highest-selling pay-per-view events in UFC history). Upon defeating Eddie Alvarez for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 205, McGregor became the first fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously.
Filmed over four years, the new documentary ‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’ from director Gavin Fitzgerald (‘The Fighting Irish’) has been promoted as an unprecedented probe into McGregor’s rise to the top of the UFC world.
After a brief prologue in McGregor’s glorious "McMansion" in Las Vegas, Nevada, we travel back to a scruffy Dublin gym. These were the days when he and his fellow fighters could barely afford their own headgear. "We don’t have the Sports Council," he observes.
Before he was signed to the UFC and weaponised into a global phenomenon, McGregor was a very relatable scrapper. With unpaid bills piling up, he fantasised about moving out of his mum’s house and earning enough money to properly support himself, his girlfriend, future children and grandchildren, etc. With the threat of poverty looming in the background, McGregor trains and practises, and dreams about hitting the big time of the UFC.
‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’ tries really, really hard to sell McGregor as an underdog: an aspiring football player, hassled on his local housing estate, who rose above it all with his skills at combat. We see glimpses of McGregor at his most vulnerable: a knee injury the public didn’t know about; a slumped figure after his first big loss; and, towards the end, a father holding his first child. In these moments, the film gets interesting, because it shows that there are depths to McGregor’s persona beneath the public bravado of wearing three-piece suits, screaming dumb things down the camera and slagging people off.
Dee Devlin, his long-time girlfriend and the mother of his child, often seems to be a more interesting focal point for the documentary. Her presence seems so central to everything he does, and yet she’s a realistic, relatable human being - the opposite of how McGregor portrays himself. It’s their story that draws attention to the line between the person and the obnoxious, marketable persona.
Elsewhere, the documentary takes an observational approach, following press junkets, physiotherapy sessions and training. Actually, there is a lot of footage of McGregor training. If that's your thing, you are in luck.
Fitzgerald has been granted liberal access to the current McGregor and has come up with a grand total of zero revelations or insights. The man himself is a polarising and fascinating personality, presented here as being consumed by a rare determination to achieve success for the sake of success. However, McGregor seems to spend more time walking around like a tool and telling staff, members of his family, passing officials and visiting filmmakers how fantastic he is. Everyone gets to hear how fantastic he is. At one point, he literally kisses his own biceps. Mutual backslapping with Arnold Schwarzenegger really does end with the former governor saying: “I’ll be back” (although the best moment might be afterword, as McGregor and his girlfriend slouch upon closing the door, giddy over the experience like a pair of teenagers).
Fitzgerald has been granted liberal access to the current McGregor and has come up with a grand total of zero revelations or insights.
No time is spent on McGregor’s sensationalism, preferring to show him in his heated moments only when he’s instigated by Nate Diaz, not when he’s looking to provoke. This is the same McGregor that recently called fighter Andre Fili a "faggot" and directed more nuanced racial slurs towards José Aldo and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Part of the problem is the structure. Even though the film spans four years, the large majority of the running time is dedicated to McGregor’s bouts with Chad Mendes, José Aldo, and Nate Diaz. The film’s climax eventually settles on his loss to Nate Diaz loss and subsequent rematch. McGregor’s win over Eddie Alvarez is practically an afterthought, and the Floyd Mayweather Jr bout (or at least the vitriolic tour) is only briefly touched on. The inclusion of high definition footage from the infamous Paulie Malignaggi sparring match is puzzling and groan-worthy.
After watching ‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’, I still don’t have much of an idea about who Conor McGregor is as a person (McGregor is credited as an executive producer on this documentary). I only know the slick, UFC-manufactured alpha male persona that millions of gormless kids on the internet worship adoringly, the bloke with the aviator shades who has his own name tattooed across his chest. He’s a fighter who says "fook" a lot, not unlike your average episode of ‘Father Ted’.
‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’ is not an honest portrayal - it is a filmed hagiography masquerading as a documentary. Clip after clip of an over-groomed dude living in luxury while waiting to fight in the Octagon, this is merely another weapon in McGregor’s promotional arsenal.