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‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’ provides glossy look at fighter’s rise to the top

Conor McGregor, years before becoming a two-time UFC champion
Screenshot credit: Universal Pictures

When you’re dealing with a story like Conor McGregor’s, having to pack the highlights of his wildly eventful professional fighting career into a feature-length documentary, while also fitting in the more intimate moments is going to be difficult, to say the least.

But that’s the challenge that director Gavin Fitzgerald has taken on with Conor McGregor: Notorious, which premieres in the UK and Ireland on Nov. 1 before making its way to North American shores one week later. Over the course of 90 minutes, Fitzgerald tracks McGregor’s path from when he quit his job to become a full-time MMA fighter to his blockbuster rematch with rival Nate Diaz, touching upon key battles and moments along the way.

Make no mistake, though several events are shortchanged (more on this later), the sheer amount of footage that this crew has put together is impressive. We open on a beaming McGregor going hard in training with fellow future UFC fighter Cathal Pendred, and proceed to get a glimpse of his modest life under his parents’ roof. It’s in these quiet moments that the documentary shines as it’s a stark contrast to the constant noise and clamor that surrounds the McGregor we see today.

Conor McGregor getting ready to work with fellow Irish MMA standout Cathal Pendred
Screenshot credit: Universal Studios

Which is not to say that the young McGregor is unrecognizable. The unshakeable confidence, the enthusiasm for combat, the Irish pride, it’s all fully on display regardless of whether he has just won his first professional bout (which actually led to coach John Kavanagh admonishing him for his post-fight theatrics, if you can imagine that) or is getting set to unify the titles against Jose Aldo. The McGregor you see now is just his old self cranked up way past 11.

That makes for an enjoyable, brisk viewing experience, but at the same time Notorious often lacks depth. It presents McGregor’s story as being linear, moving cleanly from Point A to Point B to Point C, glossing over whatever struggles he’s facing on the path to UFC glory. Unlike when McGregor performs in the Octagon, nothing lands quite as hard as it should.

So much of McGregor’s highlights are presented as just that: Flashy montages cut together in the style of a music video to the point that his fights with the likes of Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier are made to seem like the least interesting part of his journey. And that would be fine if the behind-the-scenes clips were more substantial, but they’re mostly neat slice-of-life moments that aren’t tied together by any overarching theme.

McGregor’s lives a fascinating existence, obviously, and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had in seeing him act in a more candid fashion. One major highlight of the documentary sees the fighter chumming it up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just so happens to be dating McGregor’s physical therapist Heather Milligan. “The Notorious” plays it cool with the Hollywood legend, only going full fanboy when Schwarzenegger vows that he will attend McGregor’s next fight by uttering his famous catchphrase: “I’ll be back.”

Conor McGregor living it up alongside movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger
Screenshot credit: Universal Pictures

Then again, it should come as no surprise that Notorious at times comes off as a flashy promotional vehicle given that one of the film’s executive producers is McGregor himself.

An important part of his story that stands out in an understated way is McGregor’s relationship with longtime girlfriend Dee Devlin. The Irishman’s muse is a constant presence throughout the film, and though there are few scenes that are dedicated to the role she’s played in his success, the fact that she is never far from the superstar speaks volumes about how essential a player she is without having to spell it out for the audience.

Conor McGregor posing for pictures with girlfriend Dee Devlin after winning the UFC interim featherweight title
Screenshot credit: Universal Pictures

Still, anyone looking for more than a well edited and scored rags-to-riches tale will be left feeling somewhat empty, especially when you consider that McGregor’s most recent triumphs are given such little time that it may have been better to leave them out altogether. His UFC lightweight championship win over Eddie Alvarez and his professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather that netted McGregor a nine-figure payday (even in defeat) receive less than five total minutes of coverage (the film even teases more footage of McGregor’s sparring session with Paulie Malignaggi).

McGregor fanatics will surely love what amounts to a greatest hits collection of the first three quarters of his career thus far, complete with bonus footage; for everyone else, this is just another slick retelling of the Irishman’s rise to superstardom, and as impressive as that tale is, it’s unlikely that this documentary will become an integral addition to it.

Visit the official website for information on when and where Conor McGregor: Notorious is airing in your area.

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