clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Documentarian: Conor McGregor is a ‘mad scientist’ just like Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Steph Curry

Courtesy of Netflix

Conor McGregor was speaking to his doctors just hours removed from surgery after suffering a gruesome injury when his leg snapped at the end of the first round in his fight against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264.

As recovery and rehabilitation plans were being discussed, the former two-division UFC champion wasn’t necessarily thinking about how long it would take him to stand on two legs again and he wasn’t mired in defeat after a second straight loss to Poirier.

Instead, he was telling his physicians about his eventual return to fighting.

“One of the things that’s interesting about Conor, when he loses and he’s lost a couple of fights in the past few years, everyone else freaks out — he very much doesn’t,” Gotham Chopra, director behind the new Netflix documentary McGregor Forever told MMA Fighting. “He’s like you don’t fight this much and not lose. Losing is definitely part of the journey. He’s not precious about it. He’s very interesting. He’s instantly analyzing and ready for the next fight.

“You see that in that crazy hospital scene. We’ve all seen his ankle snap and there’s another scene where he’s trying to convince the doctor ‘no, I’ll be fine, give me a couple of months.’ He’s already planning his comeback, his next fight. You’re like wow, this is a unique guy.”

Chopra, who is the co-founder of Religion of Sports and has done past documentaries such as Man in the Arena: Tom Brady and Shut Up and Dribble, which focused on LeBron James, spent the better part of the past three years developing this new documentary on McGregor.

He admits that he wasn’t necessarily the biggest fight fan but there was something utterly fascinating about McGregor that got him interested in the project. Chopra admits he never could have predicted how things would play out when he first started following McGregor after his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather and his subsequent return to the UFC in his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“It’s documentary filmmaking 101,” Chopra explained. “There’s a plan, there’s an outline or a vision, and then there’s what you capture, what actually happens, what’s in the can, the stuff that’s strongest. That hospital scene, which happens really at the end [of the documentary] is so powerful and so intimate and so interesting but it’s like how did we get here?

“You figure stuff out in the edit room but that was just one of several dramatic things that happened. You adapt around it.”

Like all athletes competing in professional sports, McGregor faces the same possible outcomes with success or failure but Chopra admits he got drawn into the idea that he was about to witness the Irish superstar make an ascension back to greatness.

What actually happened was McGregor falling to Poirier in back-to-back fights with the last bout ending with that devastating injury.

“Everybody expects wins,” Chopra said. “That’s what you do. You get on the ride and it’s like ‘he’s training really hard, he’s looking really good’ and you’re listening to all the trainers telling you ‘he’s never been in better shape in his life, his mind is so right’ and all this stuff. You go into the fights thinking of course he’s going to win these fights.

“I was at both of the [Dustin] Poirier fights, and we had a vision, and I’ve been through this before with Tom Brady where you think he’s going to win the Super Bowl and he doesn’t. You adapt. I have to say for the filmmaking, for the storytelling, losing — I don’t want to say it’s better but it’s more interesting. It gives you more tension. It gives you more storytelling opportunities than just another victory. I think that’s the case here.”

Much like Brady bouncing back from a loss in a Super Bowl and then winning the very next year, Chopra saw McGregor begin his climb back from defeat with that same kind of ferocity.

In fact, Chopra says McGregor shares one particularly strong trait that he’s seen in Brady, James, and Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, which probably helps them amass the kinds of achievements only possible in the best of the best.

“I’d say what’s in common is this relentless work ethic,” Chopra said. “This obsession with getting it right. I’ve seen it with Tom in throwing sessions or Steph Curry in shooting sessions. You’re talking in Tom’s case the greatest of all time with quarterbacks, or Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all-time or in LeBron’s case, they are like mad scientists in the laboratory.

“I’ve seen this with Conor in his practice sessions. He’s obsessing over little things. [We shot a lot of footage in training] and Conor will look at the tape and every little movement. He’s a mad scientist. He’s a perfectionist. It’s like you’re supposed to work out for two hours and four hours later you’re still going. Always looking for that next level, that edge to get it right. That’s what’s in common.”

The difference between McGregor and all those other athletes comes down to him competing in an individual sport where he has no one to count on but himself when he sets foot in the UFC octagon.

“You can — and Conor does — have the greatest trainers, dieticians, he’s using technology, and all this stuff and prepares and you see physically where he’s at and his trainers say this, push him in the octagon, close the cage, he’s on his own,” Chopra said. “It’s a violent sport. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“Steph can have an off day and Klay [Thompson] is there or in LeBron’s case with Anthony Davis and Tom always says ‘I had [Rob Gronkowski], I had [Julian Edelman], I had Wes Welker and Randy Moss, I had an entire defense that would pick me up when I had a bad game.’ You don’t get that in fighting. So there’s something mentally and emotionally about Conor that is totally different.”

The four-part series, which debuts on Netflix on Wednesday, takes an intimate look at McGregor’s life and career beyond just what he’s done in fighting. There are quiet moments where McGregor is just playing with his kids at the park as well as the occasion when he and his longtime girlfriend Dee Devlin find out the gender of their next baby.

Chopra says it was a remarkable journey to follow McGregor, who has become arguably one of the most recognizable celebrities across the globe, while also becoming one of the wealthiest. In fact, McGregor often touts the obscene amounts of money he’s made while plunking down millions for a Lamborghini yacht or a new mansion in his native Ireland.

At the same time, McGregor making more money than he could spend across 10 lifetimes has also resulted in questions being raised about his commitment to fighting. As famed boxer Marvin Hagler once said “it’s hard to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.”

While no one doubts that McGregor is certainly living a more comfortable lifestyle these days, Chopra says from everything he saw during the filming of this documentary, the drive and desire to return to fighting and get back to the top of the sport is still very much ingrained in him.

“Even with the race cars and the yachts and all the money, I’ve never see him say ‘let’s cut this training session short.’ It’s the opposite,” Chopra said. “There’s something about the sport, you cannot do that. You can’t walk into the octagon unprepared. You will get your ass beat or worse. You just can’t do it so he does seem mentally and emotionally there still.

“He’s very committed. His career is not over. I think there is a reality where your body ages, you take a lot of damage in this sport, you’ve seen it with Tom and LeBron but they are the exceptions. We’re at an age where you can’t go on forever. I think that people question and legitimately so but I don’t think mentally or emotionally or spiritually this guy is at all compromised. He still wants it desperately.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting