PHENOMENON OF THE YEAR
Every inch the embodiment of “the fighting Irish” spirit, all-conquering UFC champ Conor McGregor has emerged as a world-beater in more ways than one! Director Gavin Fitzgerald filmed his rags-to-riches rise for the documentary Notorious, one of the bigge
We talk to Gavin Fitzgerald, director of the smash hit Conor McGregor documentary, Notorious.
Arguably the most famous Irishman of the modern era (sorry Bono!), Dublinborn, multi-time UFC champion Conor McGregor has ruled the recent decade with an iron fist. Adept at mangling opponents with his mitts and mouth, the 29-year-old mixed martial artist and now professional boxer has broken scores of pay per view records and noses during his career. Indeed, the “Cult Of Conor” has grown faster than you can say his famous catchphrase, “You’ll do nothing.”
Director Gavin Fitzgerald is a man who has been there (nearly) every step of the way to film McGregor’s rise to fame. His recently released documentary Notorious is the product of the guts of five years of blood, sweat and tears. When we meet him to talk about his aptly named movie, he tells us that he’s both relieved and proud that his hard work has been a hit with fight fans around the world.
“It’s been a five-year war to get here,” laughs the film-maker. “Notorious is now the highest grossing Irish documentary of all time, and as it’s my first, I couldn’t have asked for more. Conor, of course, loves hearing numbers, so he’s equally happy.”
The seeds for Notorious were sewn in 2012, when Fitzgerald went to S.B.G. (Straight Blast Gym) in Dublin to record the rise of a sport that would enthrall a generation. It didn’t take long for the filmmaker to be mesmerised by a plucky young skinhead from Crumlin.
“We started getting into the sport in Ireland when nobody else was covering it. I went up to S.B.G. where John Kavanagh and his team train, so we were filming the bunch of characters up there including Cathal Pendred, Owen Roddy and Paddy Holohan. A lot of those guys who have since made it to UFC. One of them there really grabbed my attention. He was a skinhead back then and a hyper individual who was fighting in local shows like Cage Warriors and making a name for himself. This was of course Conor McGregor and we chatted to him because he had a fight coming up. He’d seen some of the documentary stuff we’d been doing and wanted us to talk to him. He was like ‘Why aren’t you filming me? (laughs)”.
Even in those early days, McGregor displayed immense self-belief and made converts out of anyone he spoke to.
“I was blown away the first time I talked to Conor,” reflects Fitzgerald. “He has so much self-belief it’s insane. He was telling
“I’ve a really good relationship with Conor,” says the director, “and there was never any problems with me being around. Initially we weren’t sure how Conor would react if he lost a fight. Would he pull the plug? He had the power to do so, but it was quite the opposite. He wanted us to film him when he was feeling vulnerable. He gave us great access and really allowed us into his life.”
A captivating depiction of Conor’s journey from the dole queues of Dublin to multi-million dollar fights in Las Vegas, Fitzgerald tells us that fame has changed the fighter’s life forever, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Fame has undeniably affected his life. People treat you differently when you’re famous. I remember fans coming up to him all the time and some of them would get so starstruck seeing him that their hand would be shaking going to shake his. That’s an unusual situation for anyone to deal with. It’s changed his life, but he’s built for it because he loves attention. He’s actually quite a private enough guy though. He doesn’t go out all that much, probably because now he can’t without it being a massive operation.
“If Conor walked down Grafton Street nowadays, it would close down. Everyone wants a piece of him and that’s because Conor is the best fighter to watch. I don’t think anyone can deny that. They may not like the guy, a lot of people don’t, but everyone wants to watch him because he’s so fun and creative.”
One of the reasons why the Cult Of
Conor has expanded worldwide is due to his infamous, or should we say press conferences. Taking inspiration from two-time WWE Hall Of Famer Ric Flair
(both sartorially and when it comes to trash talking), McGregor’s mouth can knock you out in a matter of seconds, as anyone who watched his promos for the big money me he was going to do something big and he totally believed it. He was also giving different types of answers to other fighters. He was talking about watching National Geographic, and seeing gorillas in the wild and taking inspiration from that. It’s not an answer you expect to get from a fighter.”
For the next five years McGregor dominated the sport, most notably becoming UFC Lightweight and Featherweight champion at the same time. Fitzgerald was there to film this real life Cinderella story – however, as Conor’s star rose, was there ever a point where he might’ve asked Fitzgerald and crew to abandon the production?
“If Conor walked down Grafton Street nowadays, it would close down.”
"He’d be looking to getting a third UFC belt next, which would be unheard of.”
boxing match with Floyd Mayweather will agree. Fitzgerald tells us that it’s all in a day’s work for the Notorious One.
“There have been moments where he was worked up after a press conference and there’s been scuffles onstage, but those moments are rare. It’s just like another day to him. Like with the Floyd Mayweather world tour, I figured he might be worked up afterwards because he had so much energy onstage. But then he’s just chilling on the couch as if he’s been through nothing. It’s not like he has all these notes beforehand or a prepared speech either. He literally just ad libs everything. I don’t know where he gets it from.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for McGregor and his team though and controversy has hurt the Cult Of Conor over the past year. He’s been criticised for making racial and homophobic slurs during some press conferences, and recently had to apologise for storming the cage at a Bellator fight in Dublin and putting his hands on a referee. A lot of people have questioned where McGregor goes from here, so who better to ask than a man who has been with him through thick and thin since 2012.
“I hope that he gets back to fighting. There’s been some negative press about him and I think he needs to rectify that, and the best way to do that is get a fight and do what he does best. He has to realise that there are so many more eyes on him now he’s in the mainstream. He needs to get back to his winning ways.”
One of the biggest rumours surrounding Conor McGregor is a possible move to WWE. The flashy world of professional wrestling seems like a perfect fit for the fighter and most would understand why he would trade the all too real threats of the octagon for the storyline-based “sports entertainment” peddled in the squared circle. Does Gavin think Conor will follow in the footsteps of Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock and Dan “The Beast” Severn and go to WWE, joining fellow Irish natives Sheamus, Finn Balór, Becky Lynch and Fit Finlay?
“God... I wouldn’t be surprised if he made an appearance...” says Fitzgerald cagily.
“But yeah, he’ll probably tap into all sorts of things when he isn’t fighting. At the moment he’s in his prime, he’s 29, and he’s looking to cement his legacy as the best fighter in history. To do that he has to keep fighting the best. I’d say he’d be looking to getting a third UFC belt next, which would be unheard of.”
Notorious is in cinemas now.