It’s hard not to know everything about Conor McGregor these days.
As the biggest star in all of combat sports, McGregor seemingly lives with cameras in his face 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and while the reality is slightly different, it’s tough for the reigning UFC lightweight champion to do much of anything without it being talked about or caught on tape.
That’s why the new documentary about McGregor called “Notorious” that lands in theaters for one night only on November 8 is truly a tale of two movies.
The first half of the film is dedicated in large part to McGregor’s rise to fame as he struggled as an up-and-coming fighter just trying to get signed by the UFC. When he finally got his shot inside the Octagon, McGregor was very wide-eyed and rather candid with everything he said, but the glimmer of his star power was present even back then.
That’s where “Notorious” really shines, as we get a glimpse of who McGregor was before he owned enough cars that he could drive a different one each day of the week. It’s the shots of McGregor working alongside retired UFC welterweight Cathal Pendred, talking about not being able to cobble together enough money to buy proper equipment to use for training and then laughing at the bills he’s getting from collection agencies trying to extract blood from a stone.
It’s credit to director Gavin Fitzgerald and the filmmakers behind this documentary that they had enough foresight to capture these moments driven purely by faith that McGregor would one day elevate to become one of the most recognizable faces in all of sports. The behind the scenes footage captured in McGregor’s Octagon debut, where he was nothing more than a preliminary fighter just trying to get noticed — and then by the end of the night he’s already getting an audience with UFC president Dana White — is utterly fascinating to watch unfold.
Witnessing McGregor’s literal rise from the gutter is the stuff dreams are made of and that’s what the first part of this film showcases in brilliant fashion. There’s even a scene where McGregor returns home after purchasing a car for someone in his family following his first UFC fight and the joy in his face at that moment is something no UFC championship or million dollar paycheck will ever trump.
The early part of the film also turns McGregor’s other half, Dee Devlin, into a star in her own right. It’s not because she’s chewing scenery or asking for the camera to capture her every move. Instead, it’s watching Devlin stand by McGregor’s side through thick and thin and “Notorious” allows you insight into their relationship. The documentary is no love story, but it’s evident in the scenes shared by McGregor and Devlin that they have a bond that appears unbreakable.
Notorious also proves that McGregor always knew that he was going to get to the top of the world, but watching the journey is mesmerizing. Of course, McGregor has spoken honestly about reading the book “The Secret,” which is what he credits for the gift of visualizing what he wants and then seeing it materialize for him like magic. The documentary will probably turn some naysayers into believers, as McGregor seemingly turns water into wine as his career prospers with each fight he takes in the UFC.
It’s safe to say the majority of people going to see this documentary already have some kind of rudimentary idea of the story surrounding McGregor and his biggest fights, but “Notorious” allows viewers to see how those moments happened in the first place. For instance, another standout scene is watching McGregor’s reaction when he finds out that Jose Aldo is injured and unable to face him after spending months promoting their fight at UFC 189.
Getting a look inside that war room with McGregor talking to White and former UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta is something every fan of the UFC would want to watch.
Unfortunately it’s the aftermath of that historic moment where McGregor would ultimately go on to defeat Chad Mendes to become the interim featherweight champion where Notorious takes a decided turn towards what we already know and much of what we’ve already seen.
As the film follows McGregor through his most recent performances — most notably, the 13-second knockout against Aldo and his two subsequent wars with Nate Diaz — the film shifts into a lot of stock fight footage that any fan of the UFC has already seen. It’s to be expected that a documentary about a fighter is going to show some of his fighting, but Notorious makes the mistake of just allowing the action to speak for itself rather than trying to capture any of the raw emotion that surrounded those moments in McGregor’s career.
There’s no mistaking how epic it was when McGregor landed a single punch and brought Aldo’s title reign down like a house of cards, but watching that shot land over and over again is something we’ve all seen before. It’s also a detriment to Notorious that, thanks to McGregor’s incredible celebrity, so much of what he’s done in recent fights has already been captured and released long before this film will be seen in theaters.
Perhaps the strongest case in point is “UFC Embedded,” which follows athletes during fight week leading up to a pay-per-view cards. The UFC has gotten so good at capturing those behind-the-scenes moments that so much of what makes up the second half of Notorious is really a look at familiar scenes most fans have already watched.
That being said, Notorious is the kind of film that will be enjoyed by hardcore Conor McGregor fans and novice viewers alike. It’s a rags-to-riches tale that needs no Hollywood script or elaborate ending “based on a true story.” This is all what really happened and the craziest part is a sequel that picks up with McGregor’s fight against Floyd Mayweather and follows him with what is about to happen next might be an even more compelling film that we’ll all be watching five or ten years from now.
“Notorious” will be made available nationwide for one night only on November 8 in theaters everywhere.