Last month, the culmination of their work, “Conor McGregor: Notorious”, was given a cinematic release by Universal. The Dublin premiere brought down the curtain for the final time on the Savoy’s iconic screen one, which will now be divided into five separate theaters.
Fitzgerald can still pinpoint when he realized that filming McGregor would become his primary focus. During his weight cut for his sophomore trip to the Octagon, “The Notorious” prophesied that their working relationship would stretch over a number of projects.
“We were over in Boston, we were over there for the Max Holloway fight,” Fitzgerald told MMAFighting.com. “We did a lot of filming with Conor one day and he was enjoying the distraction because he was cutting weight.
“We were down at the water front and he said, ‘Lads, I know you’re filming this documentary, but after you do the first series and the next series, we need to start talking real business.”
The feature film brings us right back to McGregor’s humble beginning as a wide-eyed 24-year-old with a dream to become the world’s best fighter. The Irishman would soon become the biggest name in MMA after signing for the UFC and making a beeline for the featherweight title.
As one of the biggest celebrities the sport has boasted, Fitzgerald and his film crew never knew what type of access they would be given behind the scenes when they went to film the Dubliner ahead of his fights.
“We had to creep our way in on every trip to Vegas,” he remembered.
“Each trip to Vegas – of which I’ve had eleven over the course of filming this movie – we ended up getting a little more access, but at the beginning we had no idea if we were going to be allowed backstage and things like that.
“On out first trip to Vegas, we were given seats in the stands and we were allowed to go backstage for five minutes to film Dana and Conor. It went from that to being backstage in the dressing room with Conor ahead of his fights.
“We never had the right credentials. It was a mess, but we still always managed to get in. It’s kind of what Conor is known for. He gets so many exceptions made for him and we definitely benefited from that early on.”
With McGregor constantly in the headlines since his UFC debut back in April 2013, the editing process proved to be quite challenging.
“The problem with Conor is, you’re trying to tell a specific story and then he does something else. The story constantly changes. He seems to be always making headlines – good and bad – and you’ve got to roll with that,” Fitzgerald explained.
“Some things happen in Conor’s life that are blown out of proportion in retrospect. When he had that brief retirement (ahead of UFC 200) it was just a tweet he had put out and then a few days later he was out of retirement again.
“For things like that, we just chose not to put that in because nothing really happened. Everyone was going crazy back home, but there really wasn’t that much to the whole situation.”
It’s evident how comfortable McGregor is with the film crew from the footage they shot.
The extent of his knee injury was kept under wraps ahead of the Mendes fight and as documented in the film, there were occasions when it seemed the contest could have been pulled at the eleventh hour. You can feel the intensity of the situation when the interim featherweight contender is waiting to hear how badly his knee had been damaged and the crew asks him to describe the scenario that he finds himself in.
Following his sole UFC loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, John Kavanagh asks for the dressing room to be cleared, but the camera crew remained as friends and family members embrace McGregor.
“It can get very intense and sometimes you can end up on the wrong side of that. You know, ‘Tell the cameras to get out of there’, and things like that. You have to learn how to not take it personally,” said Fitzgerald.
“He’s very real with us. He’s not going to allow the UFC film crew to be around him for situations like that, so you’re aware of how sensitive it is. That being said he’s always really nice to those people.
“We get the real Conor McGregor and that can range from him being in a good humor, to him being stressed or in a bad humor.
“What we’re trying to get across is what Conor is really like and I guess we were able to that with the relationship we had developed with him over the years.”
Some have criticized the lack of behind-the-scenes footage the film provides from McGregor’s historic win at UFC 205. Fitzgerald feels as though “The Notorious” overcoming the knee injury ahead of UFC 189 was a far more compelling story.
“For me, the story of him coming back from the loss is a stronger story. To be honest there was so much media attention around (UFC 205) and everything was being documented, so our unique access didn’t really give us enough that hadn’t already been put out,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was a very hard decision during the editing process, but we felt we had a much stronger story with him overcoming adversity when you consider how bad his knee was going into the Mendes fight.
“The thing is, people are going to be screaming for every fight to be included. If he goes on and fights Ferguson they’re going to want to see as much as that as possible. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
“All the old footage and him becoming champion, getting through the knee injury and then coming back from the Diaz loss was the strongest story we had.
“We finished with some footage of the Mayweather camp because we wanted to show the contrast of where he came from before the UFC to what he had become ahead of his pro-boxing debut.”
As an Irishman, Fitzgerald is well aware of the light McGregor shined on MMA through his achievements in the Octagon. With both the sport and McGregor himself becoming part of the Irish mainstream culture, Fitzgerald remembered how he was a complete newcomer to the sport when he began filming with the SBG fighter.
“I came into this project knowing nothing about the sport. The only impression I had of it was from that episode of Friends when Monica’s boyfriend competed in the UFC and that was nonsense for the most part.
“Now I’ve learned about the sport, and I’ve got a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. I know a lot of fighters and it’s really become a part of my life. I can only be thankful that he has made me find out more about it.”
Fitzgerald suggested that he could be interested in another project with McGregor or martial arts further down the line.
“Maybe a decade from now, that sounds good,” he quipped. “Believe me, it’s great to have all this experience of working through some crazy moments with Conor.
“At the end of the day, I’m a filmmaker and I have a lot of ambition myself. I’m interested in exploring different things now, but because of my own interest in martial arts, I do feel like it could be something that I will revisit in the future.”