A local man appeared in court on the outskirts of Dublin last week to answer a charge of speeding. Local police said the defendant had been driving at 154 kilometres an hour in a 100 km/h zone. The judge gave the defendant, age 30, a short, stern lecture on the dangers of speeding, noted the man had 12 previous driving convictions dating back to his teenage years, then fined him €1,000 (about $1,500) and banned him from driving for six months. The defendant apologized to the court.
This story might have activated some tut-tut commentary if the local man had been the everyday aggressive driver. Or if anyone was even paying much attention. But this defendant was no everyday local driver. He was Conor McGregor, the Irish UFC fighter. He is notorious, worldwide. In fact his nickname is “Notorious.” Also, he never apologizes.
Conor McGregor: Notorious (now streaming on Netflix) is a peculiar, shifty sort of three-part documentary about McGregor and his rise to notoriety and great wealth. It’s shifty because there’s not a lot there. One suspects that McGregor and his handlers are in it for the money. That’s the thing you learn about McGregor here: He’s in it for the money, and only that. There’s not much of a story behind him. No narrative arc to satisfy the viewer’s urge to hear about the hero overcoming doubt and obstacles. He wanted to get rich and live comfortably. Then he went out and did it.
The most interesting sections are fragments documenting McGregor’s early years in the fighting racket. In 2007, McGregor, aged 18, was an apprentice plumber, unemployed with debts and living with his girlfriend in his parents’ house in Dublin. A boxer but without a lot of skill, he simply decided that his future and his fortune was in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and in mixed martial arts (MMA). He trained with formidable discipline, little support and a lot of ambition. Apart from the fighting, a skill he knew he could master if he trained hard, he sensed something else – he had the charisma, humour and attitude to be a star.
He was right. The series, in just three one-hour parts, has brief but incisive glimpses into what drives him and makes him loved and loathed. He’s Dublin working-class, braying his love for the hard-knocks area of Crumlin. (In truth his family moved to a posher suburb, but McGregor is anchored in Crumlin like it’s his lifeblood.) He’s funny, wise-cracking and mocking constantly. He boasts in the way that working-class Dubliner men boast, with a sense of irony that is often lost on outsiders. He’s taken seriously when he’s only mouthing off.
All he wanted as a teenager was to be considered a hard man. The guy that other guys vaguely feared because he seemed tough. He describes what he aspired to as “this guy who knows where he’s at. Leave him alone. That guy. That’s all I wanted, really.” Then he laughs: “Now, I’m obsessed.” In footage after his first UFC victory, he cackles, “Just last week I was collecting the social welfare.” And he’s blunt about what he sees as his future: “Six holidays a year and a car for every day of the week.”
The series skips quickly to that life of fame and money. He’s seen anchored in Las Vegas in a huge luxury hotel suite. He cackles some more as he shows his Dublin pals around. It amuses him, all of it. Not for him the expensive workout gear and monosyllabic grunts to indicate he’s tough. No. He likes the bespoke suits, the fast cars and the luxury restaurants. He taunts opponents. He’s eloquent in his insults, as you have to be to survive in Crumlin. He does not give a tinker’s cuss. That’s the attraction, the dynamism of this fiercely compelling man. At one point, while enjoying a fine meal, he looks at the camera and says, in the Dublin vernacular, “I swear on me life, I try to be humble … I just can’t do it.”
There are many things to loathe in McGregor’s story. If you have a certain mindset. His job is the most brutal kind of professional fighting. The money earned is ridiculously astronomical. When he returned to traditional boxing to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., he lost and still earned more than US$100-million. He thinks that’s hilarious. In Dublin, the press tut-tuts about the example he sets – the flash cars, the fighting, the friendship with criminals, the money he tosses casually to kids on the street.
He is a bourgeois nightmare, this guy. The documentary does not go deep and nobody says what every Irish person knows: He’s the Celtic Irishman flourishing and rich long after the Tiger economy collapsed. He got where he is through ruthless determination, cunning and a commitment to his job that is breathtakingly disciplined.
It is easy to loathe him. But good luck with that. He apologized to the court. Probably with a wink.