Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment: 'The Notorious' asked us to admire Conor McGregor while neglecting to explain why he is worthy of hero worship

Conor McGregor's six-part documentary 'The Notorious' began tonight on RTE Two.
Conor McGregor's six-part documentary 'The Notorious' began tonight on RTE Two.

Ed Power

Conor McGregor is an angry-looking man with a ludicrous top-knot who pins other angry-looking men to the floor for a living (occasionally, he will kick them in the face or dash back and forth flaunting a huge tattoo emblazoned rather alarmingly across the breadth of his chest).

In other words, he's the sort you'd normally shuffle across the street to avoid (gaze locked straight ahead for fear of eye-contact). But, as we learned in the first episode of The Notorious, McGregor is also an emerging star in the fast-rising sport of MMA with a soaring profile and tens of thousands of fans.

MMA, for the uninitiated, is a cross between boxing, kung-fu and schoolyard brawling. At its best, it suggests an exquisite mash-up of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and one of those fight sequences in Star Trek where Captain Kirk dispatches a Klingon via a knee niftily-applied to the greater groin region. However, there are moments, too, when combatants resemble a pair of rabid, super-elasticated 12-year-olds settling a row – possibly over a purloined Panini Sticker album – via the age old discipline of trial-by-wedgie.

The first of six episodes tracing the Dubliner's return from career-threatening injury was curiously un-worshipful. By the time he got around to happy-slapping a hapless Brazilian at a comeback bout in the O2 (now 3Arena) you didn't know whether to admire McGregor or feel a bit sorry for him.

Read more: 'Inspiring' - 'The Notorious' gets thumbs up from Irish viewers

His eccentricity glimmered throughout – comparing himself to van Gogh, it was clear he was drawn not to the painter's genius but his derangement. Even from a man who beats people up for a living, how could this be considered healthy?

"When my mother has a big mansion when my girlfriend has a different car every day the week… then I'll be happy I lost my mind," he giggled  at one point, as if quoting a lesser-known Shakespeare soliloquy. "I'll die a crazy old man."

Read more: From Kevin Spacey comparisons to reading a speech off the back of an ESB envelope – Tony McGregor makes his mark on 'The Notorious'

We learned he was a dapper dresser, with a penchant for bow-ties (a look echoed by his dad, done up like a waiter at a mid-range restaurant for a barbecue in McGregor's honor). We also found out that he was very good at wrestling men almost, but not quite, as wiry as he to the floor, so that he could position his bottom centimetres from their face (at which point most of us would probably concede).

What the documentary failed to do was shed light on the inner-tickings of McGregor's mind. In interviews, he has tended to go off like a bling-obsessed rapper, boasting about the heft of his pay-cheque. And though there was a little of that in The Notorious, the producers were not inclined to scratch any deeper.

Read more: €190k payday for UFC star Conor McGregor after Boston win

Was McGregor's hunger for lucre, for instance, driven by deprivation as a child? (His family seemed well enough off). What about early tensions with his father over his decision to quit formal employment to follow his dream? (briefly alluded to by his dad). How would he respond to the charge that MMA wasn't really a sport at all – merely a sinew-popping circus comparable to WWE Wrestling?

The Notorious declined to delve into any of these potentially illuminating subjects. McGregor is a mouthy chap - it would surely have been fascinating to see him pushed beyond the bluster and Travis Bickle-ese and required to speak from the heart.

Instead, The Notorious asked us to admire this rising star while neglecting to explain why he was worthy of our hero worship.

Read more: Vincent Hogan: Conor McGregor's language lets both him and us down

Read more: The self-doubts as a kid that motivated swashbuckling Conor McGregor to UFC success

 

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