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Conor McGregor: Life Before the Billion-Dollar Fight

Following the release of Notorious, the biopic that charts the Irishman’s ascent from benefit claimant to the most compelling sportsman on the planet, Conor McGregor is the Celtic warrior-cum-businessman with the world at his feet

Conor McGregor is well-versed in the art of mental disintegration. Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh coined the term when describing sledging the opposition during matches. Muhammad Ali was the master of distracting the enemy in press conferences and the ring. As with other great sportsmen, the UFC champion’s character both inspires and rankles, his arrogant trash talking and self-promotion a source of entertainment and disdain.

His record speaks for itself: 24 fights, 21 wins (18 by knockout), and the first UFC fighter to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously, at featherweight and lightweight. He also went toe-to-toe in with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., one of the greatest boxers of all time, in his first professional boxing match, and only lost in round 10 by technical knockout.  

To distil ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor down to this, however, is to miss the point entirely. New documentary Notorious, directed by fellow Irishman Gavin Fitzgerald, seeks to tell the whole story. Fitzgerald followed McGregor for four years, living with his mother in a Dublin suburb, where McGregor was struggling to repay debt and forced to share kit, right up to the fight against Mayweather and the biggest pay cheque in fight history – it earned the Irishman a £23m purse, plus another £50m from a split of pay-per-view and gate sales. Earnings from the film haven’t been bad either: Notorious took €103m (£92m) in its opening weekend, immediately becoming the highest-grossing Irish documentary in Irish box-office history.

Notorious isn’t a film for fans hoping to see unseen fight footage. It is, however, an insight into the life of the world’s biggest combat sportsman, a probe into the mind of a performer who created a one-man circus and harnessed social media to promote it around the globe. “If you’re motivated by money and fame, you’re motivated by the wrong things,” McGregor says during an interview in the middle of his MMA purple patch. “Fuck fame – I’m in this game to get paid. When I retire, I want to be fat, lazy and answer to noone. Six holidays a year, a car for every day of the week.”

McGregor’s public persona both helps and hinders him. Personality sells tickets, but there’s another side to the arm-swinging, whiskey-shotting warrior. One of the first people introduced in the film is McGregor’s long-term partner Dee Devlin, who he met in 2008 while still living a modest life in Dublin. Their first child was born earlier this year, and one look at his Instagram page (@thenotoriousmma) will tell you that family is McGregor’s priority. 

His dedication to his art borders on obsession. The training regime is extreme: nine rounds of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the morning, followed by 10 rounds of Taekwondo in the evening. The next day, his focus turns to a different aspect of MMA or fitness. Rinse and repeat. Training and success have bred confidence.  But even the Notorious gets starstruck. 

On meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger, McGregor is visibly starstruck, grinning like a Cheshire cat when the Terminator delivers his most famous line: “I’ll be back”. McGregor invites Schwarzenegger to the Mayweather fight, and looks at Dee, mouth agape, when the action star leaves. His ease with a microphone in front of thousands of fans makes it easy to forget that he hasn’t yet reached 30. Then there’s his business portfolio away from the ring. Endorsement deals with Beats by Dre, Monster Energy, Reebok and Bud Light to name but a few. He wants to become a partner in the UFC. He’s making moves in the promotor industry, too. He’s just joined with made-to-measure tailor David August to launch August McGregor, in January 2018, creating suits to emulate his own sense of style. 

He’s also looking at the drinks industry, with P Diddy and Ciroc Vodka as his inspiration. At the premiere of Notorious, McGregor stated his admiration for the rapper: “You know P Diddy doesn’t even make music? He’s worth $750m (£566m) and he doesn’t even make music – he makes vodka. We’re following this formula.”

Unfortunately for the aspiring Irishman, plans to launch his whiskey empire under the Notorious moniker might have hit a snag, after a lawsuit was filed blocking McGregor from trademarking the name across Europe. A Indian pale ale having been already trademarked under the same name. 

So, what next? There are strong indications that Oscar De La Hoya, winner of 10 titles in six separate weight divisions in boxing, is looking at returning to the ring at 44 to take on McGregor. De La Hoya actually challenged McGregor on his promotions company’s radio show: “I’ve been secretly training. I’m faster than ever and stronger than ever. I know I can take out Conor McGregor in two rounds. I’ll come back for that fight.” It would certainly be another big hit with pay-per-view audiences, and a more realistic chance at victory for McGregor than his boxing debut. McGregor himself has his eye set on returning to the cage for the first time since November 2016, with provisional dates set with the UFC. There might be a stumbling block, however, after McGregor leapt into the cage unauthorised at Bellator 187 – a rival to UFC – to celebrate his friend and teammate Charlie Ward’s win. A scuffle with the referee ensued, followed by calls for a ban.

Sanctions seem unlikely though, given that no one pulls in the crowds like McGregor – he’s achieved the biggest pay-per-view MMA audience ever (1.65m vs. Nate Diaz) and the biggest boxing audience, too (6.7m vs. Mayweather). In the film’s opening minutes, we hear from a young McGregor, on his decision to quit his job as a plumber and fight full-time: “It was all or nothing with the game. I felt like I had enough talent, I thought it was time to pack up my job and chase my dream. And that’s what I’m doing… I’m the fucking future.” 

Conor McGregor: Notorious’ is available on DVD and digital download from Amazon and iTunes now