Conor McGregor is sitting in a hospital bed, clad in a surgical gown, his face still drained from a weight-cut. “I thought it was over,” he says of his career, before the setting morphs to an Octagon, where McGregor is sitting on the canvas, sporting his fight-night attire, his face twisted in pain. “This is not over!” he hisses at Dustin Poirier.
That is how Netflix’s McGregor Forever begins, the second documentary built around the MMA megastar. While 2017 film Notorious covered the Irishman’s rise to becoming the first dual-weight champion in UFC history and his iconic rivalry with Nate Diaz, this new series documents the journeys around his last four fights – three of them defeats – with an episode dedicated to each, loosely speaking.
McGregor Forever, directed by Gotham Chopra and produced by Religion Of Sports, starts at the end: in the aftermath of McGregor breaking his leg against Poirier in July 2021. It then veers back to 2018 and the Irishman's bitter rivalry with Khabib Nurmagedomov, onto his 2020 return against Donald Cerrone, his January 2021 duel with Poirier, and finally their ill-fated rematch six months later.
Notorious was released shortly after McGregor’s spectacle of a super-fight with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, the backstory of which was absent from that film and eludes this series. And so McGregor Forever begins in earnest in the lead-up to the UFC star’s clash with Khabib, a fascinating and until-now-under-explored spell in McGregor’s career. It is a spell made even more bewitching by the stark contrast between scenes of McGregor playing with his first-born son, partaking in a gender reveal for his daughter, and the venom of his exchanges with Nurmagomedov. An eerie soundtrack only serves to enhance the foreboding feeling throughout.
McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, once spoke of his fighter’s ominous attitude ahead of the fight; how McGregor was beating up sparring partners, rather than trying to learn from them, before celebrating by going out and drinking. Indeed, this particular stint of the series validates those revelations, painting a picture of an insecure McGregor, and each second of never-before-seen footage is welcome – even an excruciating scene in which McGregor’s dislocated toes are wrenched back into place, three weeks before the fight; especially shots of a teary-eyed McGregor coming to terms with the defeat, surrounded by teammates in his locker room yet desperately alone. For all the intriguing elements to this phase of McGregor’s career, the fighter himself sees it simply: “I was beat, and that’s that. I was beat where it mattered, end of.”
There is a similarly revealing moment in the third episode, after McGregor suffers his first ever knockout loss. “That was just abysmal,” he says, before questioning his team. “How come you boys have nothing... I was shot, my leg was dead, and there wasn’t a rattle at all [from you].” Both scenes follow satisfyingly cinematic framings of the fights themselves, and the other episodes employ the same impactful sound and visual editing.
The opening episode closes with McGregor carrying out community service in the series’ only acknowledgement of his various legal issues in recent years. Yet hearing McGregor express his sincere feelings about the experience highlights perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the documentary: Elsewhere, there is a distinct lack of soundbites from McGregor, with old interviews instead laid over much of the fresh footage and undermining the excitement of seeing new clips.
Yet the biggest problem is the timing of the series itself.
McGregor Forever is sold as the story of the Irishman’s comebacks from numerous setbacks, and of his impending comeback from his broken leg; however, he is yet to come back in the manner that matters most to his fans and to the sport: in the ring, and more ideally with a win. Furthermore, the series does not exactly convince you that such a win is impending. If you had not seen McGregor’s final encounter with Poirier, the last episode of the series would lead you to believe that the Irishman was approaching a redemptive victory, rather than the concerning performance and devastating injury that followed.
That McGregor has conquered his recovery from that injury is more than commendable and should not be overlooked. The 34-year-old speaks in this documentary about his desire to keep fighting, how he is and always will be a fighter first and foremost, but we are yet to even see a date announced for his next fight, against Michael Chandler. When it comes to making fights, the number and nature of moving parts can be dizzying, so McGregor’s ongoing, extended absence is not entirely his fault. But fans want a clarity on the situation that this documentary cannot provide.
Between this series, his appearances as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, and his constant presence on social media, there is plenty of McGregor content to consume in 2023. There are just not enough McGregor contests.
All four episodes of ‘McGregor Forever’ are streaming now on Netflix.
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