N.Y. State of Mind, Degrees, and Love: Megan Olivi Interview

Megan Olivi ESPN

It’s not every day that your job requires you to travel to Abu Dhabi. Or that your job is to have conversations with Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey. While these aren’t the responsibilities of a “normal” job, this would be a normal day at the office for UFC/NFL broadcaster Megan Olivi. 

Yet while working for the NFL and UFC is without a doubt impressive and notable, that’s not all there is to see here, because the real story lies not within Megan Olivi the broadcaster, but Megan Olivi the person. 

Many don’t know about the little girl who grew up watching the Yankees and Giants with her family. 

Many don’t know about the broke young lady listening to Kanye West’s The College Dropout in her 300 square foot fourth floor walk-up apartment in New York City. 

Many don’t know the honors student juggling two jobs who would take breakfast and lunch from the green room at FOX when no one was looking.

Within 48 hours of being home from Abu Dhabi, where she covered the UFC 242 event, Megan was already headed for Vancouver, where she would help cover UFC Fight Night 158: Cerrone vs. Gaethje. Even on days when she isn’t traveling the world with the UFC, it’s rare to ever find her doing absolutely nothing. 

When off-camera, you’ll most likely find Megan in the office keeping up on NFL and MMA news, writing notes, and studying for upcoming assignments. Even if she only has two days off, she’ll somehow manage to do yoga or read a book to stay physically and mentally active. Sticking to a routine like this is what keeps her sharp and prepared for when it’s time to do the work for Saturday or Sunday night. Keeping a sharp mind allows Megan to focus on two specific goals that help make her interviews different from the average.

“My goal is to be a good storyteller and give the person sitting across from me the platform and comfort level they need to share who they are,” said Olivi. 

Her appreciation and respect for sports, and the athletes, is as sincere and honest as can be and those traits may come from being born with fighting in her DNA. Many may be shocked to hear that her family’s history with combat sports transcends generations before her, as her grandfather was a Navy champion boxer. His brother was a professional boxer as well. It didn’t stop their for the Olivi family as her dad and brother were also wrestlers. 

Megan Olivi Dad and BrotherLong before she would even consider the idea of being on camera, Megan was always watching sports like football, baseball, and wrestling. Watching teams like the New York Yankees and New York Giants with her dad are some of her fondest memories. However, it was the memories of being on the wrestling mat with her sister and older brother where her love for combat sports began. While she may have never competed, that didn’t stop her from being involved in some way.

 

Megan Olivi Kid Wrestler“I grew up on a wrestling mat,” she recalled. “I would be two years old and running around with the guys on the mat. Then I reffed the little kids’ matches and me and my sister also worked tournaments. My brother is really talented. He wrestled for Team Foxcatcher, he was on Team Pennsylvania, and he went to the Naval Academy.” 

From an early age, Olivi idolized her older brother. In a way, he could be seen as Megan’s first mentor.

While her love for sports was deeper than anything at the time, it would be a while before she found herself back in that world. Megan valued her education immensely during her college years, and using the same high-intensity grind mentality an elite wrestler would, she graduated from Seton Hall and Fordham with honors in an unprecedented amount of time, obtaining degrees in Political Science, Communications and Mass Media Studies.  

However, it was a path completely opposite to mixed martial arts – the path of Political Science – that would contribute tremendously to where she is now. In 2008, while interning at FOX her senior year, Olivi found herself as the assistant to Megyn Kelly. More specifically, it was her experience during the 2008 election season that would abruptly change the path in both her life and career. 

“I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. “I saw a world that I realized I didn’t want to live in. When I got to an election year I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so nasty.’ And the things I saw and heard behind the scenes, I couldn’t be a part of it.” 

Her time in politics wasn’t a waste in any regard, though. While she may have put aside what she thought was her dream job, politics would actually be where she gained a new mentor in Kelly, whose work ethic and hustle left an impression on Olivi that she’ll never forget. 

There was one experience in particular that she vividly remembers to this day. During an interview, Kelly was completely blindsided with inappropriate and unprofessional questions. While many would’ve fallen for the bait, Kelly handled it like a true professional. 

“She didn’t take the bait. She didn’t show her anger. She answered it so beautifully. I can never forget that. I feel like I really learned a lot seeing how she handled that experience. That was a major factor in terms of knowing what kind of path I want to be on for myself as a professional,” said Olivi. 

In that moment, many would’ve been elated that their dreams were even within arm’s reach. And even if it turned out to be ugly, most would settle and accept it. Olivi was that much closer to her goal of being a political campaign manager, but the only problem was that it wasn’t as strong or pure as her other passions. While it may not have seemed like it then, it was without a doubt the best thing that could’ve happened. 

Megan Olivi Derek JeterIt wouldn’t be long until Megan finally entered the world of broadcasting. Believe it or not, being on camera was never a part of her plan. Yet while she was working at FOX, she would always talk about the Yankees or Giants games with the production crew. It wasn’t long until the guys on set noticed her love for sports, and would encourage her to be on camera. 

“They convinced me to do this one-hour online sports show. I did it and was like, this is so much fun. I can talk about the Yankees for a living? This is amazing,” said Olivi. 

Don’t get it confused, though, as this wasn’t an easy transition for Megan. Not only was she leaving her comfort zone, but she was learning things that someone from a Communications 101 class already knew. What made her capable of adapting to these life changes was the work ethic and hustle others like her brother and Kelly instilled in her. 

Megan knew what she would have to do to establish herself in the industry. With the same focus as a challenger analyzing their big title fight, she studied her field, identifying ways in which she could stand out and be unique.

Entering an industry that has millions of women trying to be broadcasters, Megan knew that if she wanted that long lasting success, she would have to stand out in more than one way. She knew she was smart, skilled, and knowledgeable. It was this same mentality that would play a crucial role in how she approaches her work for mixed martial arts.

“I needed to find a way to continue to separate myself. If I can also say I did this program(college) at the highest level, in New York City, that needs to be shown too. I was finding every single way I could build myself up in the very early stages in my career. My love for sports, in general, put me on the path of the UFC.”  

Olivi’s fuel for success runs off the mentality of “not doing enough.” Even if she were to interview McGregor on a Saturday, and be on an NFL field on Sunday, chances are she’s still looking for a way to do more. While many would call this mindset obsessive, this is the same mentality that sets the challengers apart from champions. To Megan, that is what sets you up for long-lasting success. 

“I think that when you have that feeling of ‘this isn’t enough,’ you’re going to be successful. I’m always thinking I’m not doing enough, this isn’t enough, I’m not reaching the peaks, and I’m not climbing the mountain. I have to remind myself, in my two jobs where I’m super busy, yes I am.”

Soon, it was time for the college graduate to leave her home of New York City. After getting a taste for sports broadcasting, Megan would make the biggest choice of her life. She would leave her small apartment in New York and make the move to the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas. With the motivation of being broke, she would give herself one year in Vegas to make things work. She had nothing to lose. 

“I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll give myself a year. If it doesn’t work out I can come back and be poor, who cares? I had no air conditioning. My apartment was a fourth floor walk-up with no elevator. I had to basically steal breakfast and lunch from the green room at FOX because I basically had no money. So why not try? I can at least be like, “Ah well, I moved to the west coast and tried and it didn’t work out.” 

When Olivi first got to Vegas she worked for the company Heavy. The UFC would end up partnering with Heavy, having both Megan and her longtime friend Dave Farra hosts the pre and post shows for pay-per-view events. And once the FOX TV deal happened with the UFC, she found herself doing more work for them and FOX Sports. After a brief stint with the San Diego Padres, she would return and stay with the UFC in 2013. 

It was with the UFC that Megan would become the broadcaster that has drawn critical and popular acclaim over the last six years. Yet even with her current role in the UFC, she is still given the freedom to stretch and grow as a broadcaster, and with the support megan-olivi-nfl.jpgand approval of UFC President Dana White and her producers (Craig Borsari, Chris Kartzmark, Zach Candito), she has been able to work with other organizations like the NFL. 

The NFL would add fuel to Megan’s obsession of taking on new and unique tasks that could make her a more versatile broadcaster. The NFL required her to be more reactive, as she is given tasks like giving injury reports or even discussing things she just witnessed on the field. This is drastically different from her role on UFC fight nights. But as different as these sports may be, they do share some strong similarities that help her. 

“I love the challenges. Whether it’s within the UFC or NFL, I just like being able to build those other muscles. Doing football interviews I was like, ‘Oh, this guy’s totally a fighter I would interview.’ I think to be a pro athlete, you have to be a certain kind of person. In terms of broadcasting, they’re very different. But the athletes are athletes.”

Olivi isn’t looking at her time with the UFC or NFL as short-term. Her hopes are to stay with the UFC and NFL for as long as she can so she grows with the two organizations. She looks to other colleagues in the same field, such as Michelle Beadle with the NBA, as an example of how she wants her career to be. 

“Her passion stayed with her consistently,” said Olivi of Beadle. “That’s how I feel about the UFC and NFL. I want to continue to grow and continue to grow my roles. It never feels like too much and I’m always asking for more assignments.” 

For some people in the industry who value short term success, chances are they use their platform as a simple Q&A hoping for gossip and drama. Olivi would be the antithesis of that description, as she sees her platform as a place where fighters can be real people.

Megan Olivi Conor McGregorWhile doing these interviews with the fighters, she always strives to execute them with the utmost sincerity. This trait allowed her to naturally build a connection to not just the fighter, but the person behind the fighter. With the combination of that mentality, and always having the intention of giving that person sitting across from her a place where they can be themselves, you have the reason why fans of mixed martial arts grew to admire Megan over these last six years. While she could easily talk about their fights, that wouldn’t make her different from the millions on the internet who could do the same. 

“For me, it’s more important to get Brock Lesnar to open up and talk about his kids. It’s more important for me to get Conor McGregor to really give his innermost thoughts about all these celebrities who went to the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight for him. It’s important for me to talk about the human being. I want it to be about them as a person, not them as the fighter. If all they want to talk about is fighting, then great. But if they have other things they want to say, I want them to be comfortable with me and know that I’m not trying to play the ‘ha, gotcha’ game. I’m not trying to stir the pot or bring up things that make them cry. I just want them to be themselves at that time.”

In the process, Olivi’s long journey to combat sports not only gave her a career, but a partner for life. 

Megan Olivi Joe Benavidez

In 2015, Megan married her biggest supporter and best friend, Joseph Benavidez. Joe isn’t a stranger to Megan’s world, as he is a fighter for the UFC currently ranked number one in the flyweight division. The two keep each other grounded and on a path of normalcy, with routines of morning coffee talks, workouts, and other hobbies. Most importantly, the two fully support each other, with their dog Benny along for the ride.

When asked how important it was to have a team like that, you could feel her love and appreciation for them with every word she used. 

“It’s so important because you’re gonna have bad days,” she said. “You’re gonna have bad days that are really challenging and when you question yourself and say, ‘Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Is it worth not sleeping for three days?’ You need someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing great.’ I work every single weekend in October. He (Joe) couldn’t be any more supportive. There are so many other spouses who would be like, ‘What about me?’”

That’s not the way Benavidez operates, instead, he is with his bride every step of the way. So whenever she is working on a task, either for the UFC or NFL, she’s never doing it alone, as Joe also fully commits to whatever needs to be done at that time. Whenever she needs to put a football game on that she needs to watch, Joe is right there with her, fully immersing himself in her world. She isn’t necessarily sure if she would’ve given up without Joe, but there is no doubt in her mind that she wouldn’t have been able to take a lot of the risks she did without his support. 

Megan Olivi & Joe Benavidez Fight Night“I wouldn’t have believed in myself to do a lot of the assignments. I wouldn’t have spoken up for myself when I believed I could do more. It’s vitally important. Yeah, I could probably do it all by myself, but it wouldn’t be as fun or easy. Because then what? I’m succeeding for myself? I have no one to celebrate it with? No, the point of success is to enjoy it with other people.”

The landscape of broadcasting, specifically for women, has drastically changed in the last five years, and the ladies finally being given the opportunity they rightfully deserve. There was a time when you could only be on camera if you looked a certain way, and it wasn’t because of your talent, your hard work, or your knowledge. With other women in the industry like Olivi, Renee Young, Katie Nolan, Jenn Brown and Michelle Beadle, this isn’t the case anymore, and now each of these women have platforms they rightfully earned after years of hard work.

Somewhere in the world there is a little girl who has that same love and passion Megan had at a young age. Luckily for that little girl, she has women like Megan Olivi, and the others previously mentioned, to look up and see that her dreams are possible. While she may never feel like she’s done enough, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Olivi has done more than enough to help produce a spark for younger girls. And if you ever have any doubts in your ability to achieve your dreams, just remember what she told me. 

“Don’t worry, you will.” 

And regardless of where she is in ten years, know that deep down Megan will always be that little girl running on the wrestling mat with her brother. She’ll always be that little girl watching the Yankees with her dad. And she’ll always be that broke 20-year-old with a New York state of mind living in a 300 square foot apartment and working for FOX. She’ll never forget that, nor does she ever plan to, because without those moments in her life, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

 

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