“It’s either all or nothing in the game I’m in,” a baby faced Conor McGregor says during the opening credits of the documentary “Conor McGregor: Notorious” that covers the rapid ascent of the Irishman. “My dream is to be the world champion in the UFC, have more money than I know what to do with and have a great life for my kids and my grandkids. My dream is to be number one.”
It’s mind-blowing that this all came true in just four short years.
In most cases, a documentary on a fighter who made his UFC debut a little over four years ago would be deemed as far too soon. But in McGregor’s case, his meteoric rise is worth documenting with director Gavin Fitzgerald compiling footage from the past five years to give casual fans and MMA diehards a view of the brash champion’s life before, during and after he reaches superstardom.
Bookended by McGregor’s second fight with Nate Diaz, the film gives a startling look at where McGregor was before he debuted with the UFC in April of 2013. It’s hard to believe that this was a man who dares his numerous bill collectors to come and get him and jokes about being unable to afford headgear to spar. That’s exactly what we see at the beginning of the film. He and his girlfriend, Dee Delvin, are living with McGregor’s parents and everything that he speaks of sounds incredibly farfetched.
But it’s refreshing to see that McGregor has always believed in himself.
His earliest interactions with Dana White are captured and McGregor’s demeanor hasn’t changed. He’s hungry, confident and just as cocky then as he is now. But it’s also a very honest depiction of a man who didn’t have a road paved for him and was every bit as determined then as he is today. And these behind-the-scenes moments are the most fascinating and intriguing aspects of the film.
There’s his UFC 189 preparation for Jose Aldo (who would later be replaced by Chad Mendes) that reveals that he hid an ACL tear for weeks from the media and the UFC brass. There’s also footage of Dana White and former UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta waking McGregor up with the news that Aldo had to pull out due to injury just two weeks before the fight. This fly-on-the-wall footage shows a side of McGregor that we’ve only heard about.
There’s also a visit from Arnold Schwarzenegger where McGregor and Delvin can barely hold it together after the blockbuster movie star exits the Mac Mansion that is revealing. Although McGregor predicted his success, even he has to take a few breaths to soak it all in as it happens.
What may also resonate deeply with fans is his submission loss to Nate Diaz where McGregor allows the cameras to catch him at his most vulnerable in the moments after defeat. As he apologizes to his team and allows the gravity of the situation to set him, he becomes incredibly self-critical.
“He was always there in my face,” McGregor says as he reflects on the fight. Then the reality that he tapped out hits him. “I [expletive] out.”
Rather than sulk, he immediately begins computing what went wrong and is seen going right back into training for the rematch.
All through the documentary we see a man who never allows the money to deter him from his preparation. For every new suit he buys, there’s footage of him training through injury and putting in hours at the gym.
Although the film technically closes with his victory over Diaz, the credits roll with the Irishman becoming the first UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously as well as the Mayweather-McGregor world tour and the fight that earned McGregor a monstrous payday of $80 million. Not too bad for a guy who was staring at a stack of bill collector notices just over four years ago.
As a bit of an added surprise, the credits also feature some unreleased sparring footage between himself and Paulie Malignaggi that caused a huge rift between the two before McGregor faced Mayweather. As a sort of a jab to Malignaggi, footage of McGregor countering Malignaggi with a hard left hand and the retired boxer saying “good counter” is shown. Obviously, we still haven’t seen the full video but it’s clear that McGregor always has something up his sleeve.