Film review: 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary

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Before he became one of the richest athletes in the world, before he became a massive box off attraction and pay-per-view draw, before he became a two-weight champion in the UFC, before he was even signed to the premier MMA organization in the world, Conor McGregor had the foresight to document his impending journey on film while still fighting for Cage Warriors on the regional circuit in Europe.

In the hands of some very capable filmmakers lead by director Gavin Fitzgerald, the result is “Conor McGregor: Notorious,” a fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary showcasing the meteoric rise of the biggest star the sport has ever seen. It’s sure to appease MMA junkies and casual fans alike.

The film opens with a montage of highlights from the Nate Diaz rematch at UFC 202. From there we, the audience, are asked to hop into the proverbial DeLorean and jump back to 4 years earlier, where we find McGregor staring at a debt collectors letter and laughing it off. The humble beginning is double stamped as we see him interact with SBG teammate and training partner Cathal Pendred at the SBG gym in Dublin, Ireland as the pair joke borrowing each other’s head gear because they can’t afford their own.

The opening to the film establishes where McGregor came from – nothing. What it also establishes is the rock-solid relationship he’s had with girlfriend Dee Devlin, who has arguably been his biggest support system and anchor from the get-go.

Courtesy image: NBC Universal

From there we’re introduced to the entire supporting cast of characters from teammates and training partners, Artem Lobov, Gunnar Nelson, the aforementioned Pendred, coaches John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy, as well his immediate family; Tony and Margaret McGregor et al. It’s fascinating to see these young and innocent faces, yet to be exposed to the world they all inhabit now, as they embark on this journey with McGregor. There are cameos from Dillon Danis and James Gallagher later. However, it’s clear that aside from the hours spent in the gym, the bond McGregor has with his team is just as crucial to his success, which is a running theme throughout the film.

The largest portion of the film is dedicated to the build-up to the Jose Aldo fight, which ultimately took place at UFC 194. However, it’s the build-up to UFC 189 that produces some of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes moments and never-before-seen footage, which will resonate most with hardcore fans of the sport.

We see McGregor struggle but ultimately deal with a severe knee injury (ACL tear), which at the time was only known to his teammates and coaches. We then witness UFC President Dana White and then co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta visit the ‘Mac Mansion’ in Las Vegas to break the news that Aldo was injured and out of the fight.

Another amazing moment captured on film is McGregor being paid a visit by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The interaction between the two is fun and although it’s just a few moments, the biggest takeaway is when McGregor and Devlin show the “The Austrian Oak” out and as they shut the door, there’s a real moment of innocence as they both look at each other, smiling and laughing, gobsmacked that one of the biggest stars in Hollywood took time out of his schedule to pay them a visit. Instances like this captured throughout the film are real high points providing a good balance of showcasing McGregor the fighter versus the everyday guy thrust into the A-list world – that despite the money, fame and everything that comes with celebratory status, McGregor thoroughly enjoyed the journey, even if he had to pinch himself from time to time.

Courtesy image: NBC Universal

The final portion of the movie is dedicated to his biggest rival, Diaz. Up until now the audience has seen McGregor overcome injuries, defeat a legend in Aldo, become a bonafide superstar and do it all with a cheeky smile, as if he had foreseen this all, which remarkably isn’t far from the truth. What we have yet so see is McGregor go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, his first loss in the UFC, which came at the hands of Diaz at UFC 196.

It would’ve been easy for McGregor to tell the production crew to turn the cameras off as he gathers his thoughts post-fight in the locker room, minutes following the loss. But he doesn’t. Once again, like many times throughout the film, we’re right there with him and his teammates, coaches and manager in an emotionally charged moment. It’s fascinating to see him be so self-critical and at the same time see the determination in his eye to come back, which, of course, he did at UFC 202. It’s this continued unprecedented access throughout the four-year span the film covers that helps it stand head and shoulders above other sports documentaries.

The final minutes of the film quickly put a spotlight on his historic win at UFC 205 in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, where he defeated Eddie Alvarez to capture the UFC lightweight championship, thus becoming the first fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two titles at the same time.

As the credits roll we get highlights from the May-Mac World Tour.

The film ends at the 90-minute mark, which for the sake of pacing is the sweet spot. There’s real energy and vigor with the use of music overlaying careful section of footage. Like all good documentaries, the film is stitched together diligently, and while ardent fans of both McGregor and the sport might wish the story telling had extended beyond the Diaz rematch to put emphasis on both UFC 205 and the Floyd Mayweather boxing match, I’ve got no doubt there’s plenty left on the table for a sequel.

Courtesy image: NBC Universal

In the fight game it’s quite rare for a fighter to give unprecedented access to a film crew over a vast period of time, especially when information regarding injuries being leaked to the media can drastically help opponents. That’s where a long-term relationship with Graeme McDonnell, founder of and who serves as a producer on “Notorious,” clearly plays a factor. There’s a genuine trust established between McGregor and the film crew, and the brash Irishman is totally open with every minutia of his journey. Whether it’s intimate moments with Devlin, showcasing his rehab (at times in total isolation) or the relationship with Kavanagh, it’s all there to be seen.

For the MMA junkies, we get a few extra layers to the McGregor story we’ve been witness to. For everyone else, it’s an opportunity to get to know the man behind the fighter, and perhaps in the process be inspired. Aesthetically the film has a rich production quality to it. There’s a certain texture to everything, which gives it that Hollywood gloss.

It would’ve been easy for this to be nothing more than a jacked-up countdown show throwing together all of McGregor’s classic moments at press conferences, interviews and weigh-ins. Where “Notorious” succeeds is giving an authentic and honest look at a fighter that quite literally went from nothing to something to everything and then some.

My top 5 moments from Conor McGregor: Notorious

  • 1. McGregor toasting to some good business, sipping on some fine (and no doubt expensive) whisky with Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and other executives backstage at major UFC events.
  • 2. McGregor’s first time meeting “The Terminator” himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • 3. McGregor waking up, hair all over the place, being greeted by his team, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta first thing in the morning before learning of the Aldo injury news leading up to UFC 189.
  • 4. McGregor speaking to himself, saying “I p***ied out” while all those around him try to keep his spirits high following the loss to Diaz at UFC 196.
  • 5. McGregor parking one high end car, informing the person responsible for washing it that two more are on their way.

“Conor McGregor: Notorious” hits U.K. theaters Nov. 1, with a special one-day release in North America on Nov. 8. The film will be available on DVD and digital download Nov. 20.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

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As an Irishman with a new UFC deal, Joseph Duffy is an endangered species

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As is befitting of the man, news that Irish lightweight Joseph Duffy had signed a new seven-fight UFC deal following a brief spell as a free agent was accompanied by minimal fanfare.

There was no bombast, nor were multiple members of the 155-pound division subjected to impromptu challenges on Twitter, in some transparent attempt to hog a little more of the spotlight while his name was in circulation.

That’s just not Duffy’s way, and it never will be. But, if it were, the UFC may not have allowed the Donegal native to fight out his old contract with a routine win over Reza Madadi at UFC Fight Night 107 in March, and then entertain offers from other promotions before finally tabling the sort of deal he felt deserving of.

Timing also played a significant role in the relatively subdued response to the UFC retaining the services of one of Europe’s most potent combatants.

In the hours after Pete Carroll of broke the story of Duffy (19-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC) committing his longterm future to the world’s biggest promotion, another Irishman, Conor McGregor, took to the stage of Barclays Center in Brooklyn to trade insults with Floyd Mayweather. There’s just no competing with that.

Had Duffy not signed on the dotted line, McGregor would have been left as the sole Irish-born fighter established on the UFC roster.

Just two years ago, when Duffy announced himself to the wider MMA audience with a first-round TKO of Jake Lindsey on his promotional debut at UFC 185, that scenario would have been unthinkable.

Irish fighters were ubiquitous among the ranks of the UFC as the first generation from the island bounded in behind McGregor. But now, after a slew of retirements and pink slips, they’re an endangered species.

On reflection, Duffy is somewhat taken aback by the brevity of the Celtic culling, but he’s confident the status quo will be temporary. In typically modest fashion, he also doubted whether his absence would have been keenly felt.

“To be honest, it was strange the way it happened, and it all seemed to happen very quick,” Duffy told MMAjunkie. “You had (Cathal Pendred, Paddy Holohan and Aisling Daly) retiring, and it was just so quick how it all thinned out.

“I’m not sure me leaving would have been too much of a loss because there’s always going to be a lot of talent coming through in Ireland. We love our combat sports, so I’m sure the future is going to be bright for the country.”

Veteran flyweight and Irish MMA icon Neil Seery hung up his gloves following a submission loss to Alexandre Pantoja just under a fortnight ago at UFC Fight Night 113, leaving McGregor as the lone survivor from that famous night at Dublin’s 3Arena in 2014 when Ireland was briefly the epicenter of the MMA universe.

Of course, Russian-born featherweight Artem Lobov, who grew up in Ireland, proudly flies the flag of both countries when he competes, while SBG Ireland team member Gunnar Nelson is a beloved adopted son of the Emerald Isle.

Another SBG man, Charlie Ward, has fought and lost twice under the UFC’s banner, but his UFC stint only materialized due to his connection with McGregor.

Given he has not lived in Ireland since childhood, Duffy was always somewhat of an outlier as an Irish fighting entity, but his connection to home has never waned. In fact, he draws strength from it daily.

“From day one, right back to my Cage Warriors days,” Duffy said, “that’s what my inspiration and drive was. I remember hearing about the bars being full at home with people who were watching the Cage Warriors live streams. That spurred me on even more.

“Every training camp, I remember the thoughts of people sitting in the bar watching the fight and everyone who traveled over, and that’s always been one of my inspirations. And that’s not to even mention all the fans from Wales and England who have followed me. It all means a lot to me.”

The son of a fisherman, Duffy was born close to the fishing village of Burtonport on the untamed but beautiful northwest coast of Ireland.

When the fishing industry began to dry up there, his father followed his uncle to work as tunneller in Wales. When Duffy was nine months old, the entire family made the move.

The Duffys returned to Ireland for a time when Joseph was small child, before returning to Wales, while family vacations to Donegal were frequent.

As such, Duffy was, in some people’s eyes, neither quite Irish or Welsh. But he knew exactly who he was.

“Since I was a kid, I was never one to follow the click or the bubble,” Duffy said.” Living in Wales and being Irish, I didn’t fit in there. Then coming home after living in Wales, there were people who wouldn’t consider me Irish.

“But if you let that all bother you, you’ll get nothing done. I was always proud of being Irish, right the way through school, and all my friends knew it very well. I’ve still got all my friends from Donegal, the ones I grew up with.”

In total, beginning with Tom Egan at UFC 93, and concluding with Ward’s loss at the hands of Galore Bofando, also at UFC Fight 133 in Glasgow, a total of 10 Irish-born fighters have fought in the UFC.

And every one of them has been supported with a manic fervor by their compatriots, which is a hallmark of the Irish sports fan; they rarely do half measures. In that respect, Duffy is proud to be native athlete they can rally around.

“No matter what sport it is, the Irish fans have always proved themselves and their support is always incredible,” he said. “The Irish fans will always get behind the likes of Gunnar Nelson and Artem Lobov, so it’s almost like there are more of us.

“You see it when Conor fights, with the amount of them that turn up. It would have been a bit of shame for the Irish fans to have nobody to get behind if Conor did decide to knock it on the head.”

Although McGregor has said he will return to MMA to defend his UFC lightweight title in December, his projected windfall for the boxing match with Mayweather next month is such that might he think otherwise.

Should that be the case, Duffy will be, for the time being at least, the last Irishman standing in the UFC, while over in Bellator, James Gallaghershould continue to make waves.

Training at the Tristar gym under Firas Zahabi and Eric O’Keefe, Duffy has been a resident of Montreal for more than two years. And while his skills are being honed in Canada, it’s Ireland where Duffy finds the fuel to compete.

“Before a camp, I try to get home,” Duffy said. “Because, when I go home and speak to people, and hear how much it means to them, it reminds me of that. That’s the difficult part, because when you’re away from it, sometimes you can forget.

“Some of the things people say to me is such a motivation, and I remember those words all through camp. If you’re having a bad session or things aren’t going your way, it those words you think of to push you on. And they were some of the people who really motivated me to do well.”

After defeating Ivan Gorge via first-round submission in his sophomore promotional appearance at UFC Fight Night 72 in Glasgow, Duffy took a trip back to Donegal to catch up with friends and family. What awaited him was a gesture he’ll never forget.

“I remember going home just after the Glasgow fight, and my cousins surprised me up the town, and lot of people from the town came out to welcome me home,” he said. “Then my best friend organized something for me after a festival that was going on, so home has always meant a great deal to me.”

At 29 and with his professional future secure, Duffy feels a sense of urgency about getting back in the cage and resuming his ascent through arguably the most exacting division in the sport.

And, just on the off-chance a reminder to do was required, he’s had plenty of prompting from the green hoards.

“The Irish fans on social media have been nagging me to get more active, and I haven’t been able to because I’ve been working on my game, but now I want to start putting on shows for those guys,” Duffy said.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Source: MMA Junkie