Conor McGregor: Notorious is in cinemas now. It's a bruising, honest and funny look at the rise of one of the most divisive figures in Ireland
It really is a brutal sight - blood sprays across the canvas, knees and elbows plough into chins, fists and feet fly and pummel torsos and heads, men are hit hard when they’re down . . . anyone who's seen a mixed martial arts match up close will know just how bloody savage they really are.
Director Gavin Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back in this short, fast-moving and very well-made account of how Crumlin lad Conor McGregor rose from his local gym to the glittering lights, hype and vulgarity of major purse bouts in Las Vegas. With its slow motion, close-quarters capture of those viscerally violent fights, Notorious makes Raging Bull look like The Champ.
But is MMA a sport or is it atavistic reversion to the bare knuckle bouts of yore? Either way, in Conor McGregor it has found its Hurricane Higgins. He is the man who has done more for the profile and profit of the game than anyone before or since.
Notorious begins in the summer of 2015 and a suited and booted McGregor striding out of the "McMansion" (the luxury house he rents in the US) into another warm Las Vegas night with the immortal lines, "Let’s go school this mother****er". He is on the way to his showdown with Nate Diaz but as McGregor fans will know only too well, it was the Celtic terrier that ended up well and truly schooled that night after ten straight victories in a row.
With its slow motion, close-quarters capture of those viscerally violent fights, Notorious makes Raging Bull look like The Champ.
From there, we go back a few years to find the future UFC firebrand living at home with his parents. He has quit his job, he's on the dole, the final demand letters are mounting up, he is smashed broke but he has a dream. Archive footage and not a Rocky style montage chart his rapid rise and within a few years of taking on cage fighters on the European circuit, the UFC comes calling and the wins begin to rack up for McGregor - he can smell the big time.
Notorious is mostly concerned with the build-ups, brutality, and aftermaths of McGregor’s fights with Jose Aldo and his grudge rematch with Diaz. However, Fitzgerald’s camera gets everywhere - from chill-out time in the McMansion, visits back to Dublin, very brutal ringside close-ups and the dressing room postmortems with his manager and training team. Throughout, McGregor retains his manic laugh, his sense of humour, and his cool even when he’s battered and bloodied and injury worries threaten to shatter his dream.
Dee Devlin, his long term partner, is present in nearly every scene, either crying with pain or pleasure and she is a lifeline to McGregor in defeat and victory; the ultimate ice pack for his emotions. His parents, Tony and Margaret, and his sister also feature and a visit to the McMansion by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger is a hoot. For some reason, in one scene there is a massive sword lying beside the sink in the luxury loo of McGregor's Las Vegas lodgings. No, a real sword.
Notorious is mostly concerned with the build-ups, brutality, and aftermaths of McGregor’s fights with Jose Aldo and his grudge rematch with Diaz
In the ring, McGregor ain’t no Gentleman Jim and he trash talks like a gangsta Ali. However, once out of the bear pit, he is one funny swine. He greets his countless well wishers on the streets of Dublin with genuine humility and he clearly sees himself as an example of how to drag oneself from humble beginnings to huge success.
Notorious ends with McGregor hobbling about on crutches but still laughing manically. Last summer's defeat - after a hugely impressive ten rounds - at the hands of Floyd Mayweather is only covered during a cutaway montage during the end credits. Make no mistake, when the final bell rings in Notorious, McGregor is still the champ.
This mean, green fighting machine with the gift of the gab (and deeply unsavoury tweets) remains a divisive figure and the MMA/UFC circus still appals or excites in equal measure. However, this entertaining ringside view of one man’s battle to make it to the very top goes a long way to detoxify the brand and reveal McGregor as a born survivor and fighter.
Alan Corr @corralan