“It's literally, literally a dream come true.”
Megan Olivi just passed her eight-year anniversary as a member of the UFC, but she speaks about it today with the same passion and enthusiasm that you might expect from someone who just got the job.
Although she had covered UFC events as a freelancer and for the website Heavy, her first show as an official member of the team was UFC 166: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3 in October 2013.
“It was all a blur,” she recalls. “I remember being very nervous all the time. I remember everybody on the staff being as helpful as they possibly could be. But it was an overwhelming thing because, you know, a UFC event is so massive behind the scenes that maybe you don't really know until you're in the bowels of it. Just realizing I'm now part of this giant moving circus, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is a lot.’
“But I think I just remember taking it one moment at a time and one interview at a time and that's how I navigated it.”
Back then, her content mostly appeared on the UFC’s website. But in her ethos of taking it one interview at a time, her profile and her contributions continued to expand to where she is today: a shining persona indivisible from all facets of the live UFC experience.
“Megan’s voice has become a big part of our pay-per-view and big event broadcasts,” says UFC Supervising Producer Michael La Plante. “She brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to every assignment, big or small. Her reports are always incredibly informative and unique because of the research she does and the time she spends talking to the fighters. The result is an added level of storytelling and depth on each fighter, which is a tremendous boost to the broadcast.”
Backstage interviews gave way to a bevy of pre- and post-fight show platforms over the years where her finely crafted storytelling and athlete insights not only endeared her to MMA fans worldwide, but repeatedly confirmed her as one of the most authoritative voices in the sport.
UFC Vice President and Coordinating Producer Zach Candito has worked alongside Olivi for much of her tenure and has witnessed her evolution firsthand.
“Megan is motivated and passionate about the UFC and her broadcast role,” he says. “She’s developed into an excellent broadcast reporter. She’s well-studied, insightful, and has a rare ability to get the best out of fighters in interviews. As a producer, we need talent adept at taking things as they come and being able to adjust on the fly. Due to Megan’s maniacal preparation and intimate understanding of the sport, there is never a situation that she isn’t prepared for. Her ascent from digital reporter to the preeminent insider on our signature events has been a joy to witness, and her contributions to the sport and the live event should be lauded.”
Jon Anik, her comrade on the pay-per-view broadcast, concurs.
"There is no one I’d rather be on this wild UFC circus ride with than Megan Olivi," he says. "It has been amazing to have a front-row seat to watch her career trajectory. She has worked hard at her craft for many years to become what I believe is the best television reporter in the game. Our careers have sort of been intertwined with the UFC and I’m just absolutely thrilled to see her realize all of this success. And for the record, she’s still underrated."
As we get set to close out 2021, UFC.com was thrilled to finally sit down with Olivi and talk about her journey to date and what lies ahead.
UFC: Tell us about the evolution of your role here and how that has changed over the years.
Megan Olivi: So I was initially hired to do UFC digital interviews, which I still think are such a vital component of how our fans take in their fight content, and how they learn about athletes. I was also hired to do sort of recaps of open workouts and weigh-ins and backstage interviews after fights, and that's sort of just evolved into doing a little bit more and a little bit more. Then we did sit-down interviews and then I eventually got asked to be a part of the broadcast team. It started with just an appearance here or there on certain cards and then it turned into “Okay, now you're going to do more,” and then it turned into opportunities to host the desk as well.
So it just kind of continued to be this growing snowball of things. where I still try and help in the digital space and do as much as I can just keep it full circle because of the way our fans take in their content. Because of the way our fans take in their content, I make sure that I'm doing what I can to provide the best content I can for every platform, not just the broadcast, which is sort of my main responsibility now.
UFC: When it’s your night off, fans tend to notice. Audiences want to see your face and hear your voice talking about these athletes. What’s it like to now be synonymous with the experience of a live UFC broadcast?
MO: It's sort of mind blowing. That's very sweet of you to say and it's sometimes hard for me to actually ever feel that way. I think being on camera you simultaneously feel very confident in yourself, but also hate yourself at the same time [laughs]. That's sort of what it is to be on camera. To look at where I started and not really know what I wanted to do, but knew that I loved sports and I loved storytelling, to now being able to like implement storytelling about athletes into our broadcast? It's now sort of ingrained into the broadcast, you hear these snippets before an athlete walks or you see the feature interviews or whatever it is to be able to to tell those stories now on such a high level on ESPN on the world's best athletes.
I mean, it's sort of mind blowing for me, but it always went back to what my roots were. I was a girl who loved watching sports growing up. I watched them with my dad and my brother and I always wanted to know more about those people who were out there entertaining me. Also, who were they outside of that? To be able to do that now, it's literally, literally a dream come true; something that I didn't even have the capacity to envision as a child or a young person. To now be able to do it for a living and have people care and notice it's almost overwhelming sometimes to think about.
UFC: We’ve watched in awe as the live production has gotten more and more complex, and you continually make it look easy and seamless…although it’s obviously not. Can you walk us though what your weekly preparation looks like? I feel like most people don’t comprehend what goes into producing a typical fight night.
MO: So for a week with a UFC event, it traditionally starts for us on a Monday. If you're doing back-to-back events, it's hard to prepare for two at the same time. I think if you ask anyone, you know--if you ask me or Jon Anik or Daniel Cormier--we kind of take it one event at a time because those athletes deserve our attention, and things can kind of get muddled or confused if you're trying to do like 24 athletes times two. So traditionally on Monday we make sure we have all of our ducks in a row. The research has really already started, but that's where you dive in deeper.
We all sort of have a running list of notes. For instance, Cowboy Cerrone. I have worked with him for years and years and he's appeared on a million fight cards. But those notes are always evolving so we can look back and see what he said three shows from this one. But we can also continue to grow in the information we know and present about Cowboy and who he is in his evolution. So we just kind of do like the deeper dive starting on Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday are our big fighter meeting calls. Those take our entire day. We speak with almost every athlete on the card. Whoever we don't speak with on that particular call--which involves our producers as well as the other talents of whoever is calling the fight--we just really try and get the information we don't know about those athletes yet. We try to talk to them about their last fights, what their recent camp was, life outside of fighting, what their expectations are for their event on Saturday and sort of move from there. We all have our own line of questioning.
After that, it's kind of about summarizing everything we've learned, hitting on those important points. I usually get a production list of what the producers are expecting from me come Saturday night. That's where I then gather up all the information on the people I haven't yet spoken to in person and I make sure I speak to them both Thursday and Friday, or at least one of those days.
For me it is unacceptable to speak about an athlete if I haven't spoken to them. Sometimes it's through an interpreter. Sometimes, it's not as easy. It might be on the phone. Thank goodness for Zoom because it actually has really helped in those moments, especially with people traveling or coming in late. But I will never speak about an athlete unless I have confirmed that information myself, unless they've given me that information. And if you that's where it's important to credit those sources who have given you information, like our beautiful team at UFC dot com. I have a great relationship with our partners in Brazil who often times really helped me with translations, but also they're able to kind of dive into their athletes a little bit more because they know them on a more personal level and they sometimes flag thanks to me like, “Hey, did you know this?”
So it's a really important to me that on Thursday and Friday I'm sitting down with those athletes--even if it's just at weigh-ins--and I'm getting a specific amount of time where I can ask them questions. They can give me all the information they've ever wanted…or they don't want.
Then Thursday and Friday is all about writing, writing, writing. We write a ton of scripts. Things change with our Covid era…fights fall off your whole line of responsibilities could change. But we then write our reports, we write locker rooms, we write our talking points for fighter walkouts. So it is a ton of preparation and hours and hours of script writing and editing. We then send those over to the producers so they know when I pop on camera when I'm going to be done talking.
UFC: I had the privilege of being a fly on the wall for part of your fighter meetings in New York for UFC 268 and I was really fascinated by how each of you had your own angles and your own questions. What are you personally looking for when you have those athlete interactions?
MO: That's a good question. It's a well-oiled machine. Jon Anik is our fearless leader and so he kind of gets the ball rolling. He makes sure to touch upon the main concepts and ideas of things that we all as a group would collectively want and need to know. He’s also a researcher extraordinaire, so he'll make sure those little nuggets are addressed.
D.C. [Daniel Cormier] he's really there to make sure he's breaking down the fights. He's already watched footage. He is the best. He comes so prepared. He knows everything about their previous performances, about what their opponent does, keys to victory and holes maybe that people might have. He’s really good at that.
And then for me it's all about the storyline. I think to be on a broadcast of this level that continues to move every week, you have to really know what your role is and you can't take time up just having your knowledge out there; hearing your own voice. It's great. We're all super knowledgeable, we all know and respect that about one another. But you have to know what your role is and make sure that you're making the most of the time you have with each athlete and that you're getting the most so that your colleagues can also hear those answers. Maybe it's not something I can use from my portion of the show, but it's certainly something the commentators at the Octagon can use.
UFC: I think too few viewers understand this: you guys don’t have script-writers and you’re not sitting there reading cue cards and teleprompters. It’s all you.
MO: Yes. All of us. We write our own scripts. For me, again, it’s again unacceptable to do it any other way. There is no one researching for me. There is no one I'm calling for help about things. It's 100% on me. We send them into the producers, of course. They make sure they have them before the show starts. But we all write our own scripts, we do our own research, we memorize our own reports. Jon Anik’s pay-per-view open is memorized. Every single hit that I do is memorized.
I remember before the Connor McGregor show, maybe two hours before the card started a fight fell off. And so they were like, “Hey Megan, your report is changing now, you have to do 30 seconds on this [other] athlete.” So you write it and then you have a limited amount of time to memorize it. But that's what it is. And so it's a lot about making sure you're just repeating things to yourself and you’re knowing what you say. But when you have those conversations yourself and then you write notes or the scripts themselves, it's kind of second nature to know what you're talking about. So you might not hit it word for word how you dreamed it in your head, but it's certainly going to be something that's easier to memorize than some report somebody else wrote for you or trying to read off cue cards, which I would be terrible because I'm so bad at the teleprompter, like you don't want me to read [laughs].
UFC: Because of the pandemic, the UFC obviously has done a lot of events the last year plus at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Has being there week after week allowed the production team to try out different things that maybe you couldn’t on road shows?
MO: Yeah, for sure. To be here at the Apex definitely helps us with those shots and being more creative because on one hand, it's like “We're at the Apex again, how do we make it different?” But also, for instance, Madison Square Garden was an overnight load-in, so we don't have as much time to get cameras set or be as creative and think “Oh well, this shot could look cool, let's try that during rehearsal.” Sometimes you just don't have those opportunities.I mean they were still exposed [hockey] ice when we were rehearsing, I was just trying not to break my neck [laughs].
Here at the Apex, it's a really cool group formula. Our producers, but also our Steadicam guys--the ones actually holding the camera on their bodies that follow me and then the fighters--they have so much input. We get to experiment here and not everything is going to work out perfectly, but it is way easier to try it at the Apex where you are in a space that doesn't really change. You don't have to worry about load-in and load-out, you don't have to worry about doors opening. You can kind of just be a little bit more creative and experimental than if you're on the road, which makes it more fun.
UFC: Throughout your career to date, you’ve really had a front row seat not only to the growth and expansion of the UFC, but of the acceptance of MMA generally. It must be hugely validating for you after all the work you’ve done.
MO: Yeah, it's definitely grown because I would sit next to people on an airplane and they would see what I was doing on my laptop and be like, “What is that?” Now they’re like, “You know about the UFC?” The growth has been bananas, honestly. It's been really cool because I think our athletes were often looked upon as sort of the outsiders in the sports world. I don't think it was necessarily by other athletes, but I think, you know, when it came to sports fans, the fighters weren't maybe given the respect that they certainly earned and deserved and now to see people really understanding what it takes to be a fighter at a high level is a beautiful thing and it's so overdue, but we'll take it now, right?
For people to love fights and to care about prelims and [for me] to be asked by random people that you don't think our our UFC fans or MMA fans in general, it's really amazing because these athletes work so hard and oftentimes they're sacrificing way more than maybe others who do things professionally. To not get their respect or the recognition that they deserve can be challenging. So to see how far this sport has come and how much that means to the future generation of fighters is so awesome and I can't wait to see where it is 10 years from now.
UFC: You could have worked in other sports but you ultimately chose this one. Is there a bit of “I told you so” about your choice now that it’s so huge?
MO: It is a little bit of I told you so, but also, being married to a fighter, you just care so much. You want the world to know our athletes in the same manner in which they know these high level football players like Kyler Murray or an Odell Beckham, Jr. Having [OBJ’s] trade be so important to the NFL world and be so such newsworthy stuff. You want what happens in the Octagon to be the same way. “Oh my gosh, this guy's moving weight classes. Can you believe it?”
“So it is validating a little bit, but it's more for me. It's satisfactory to see what our athletes really get out of it. And now it's nice to not be looked at like I have two heads when I tell people what I do [laughs]. So that helps too.
UFC: The athletes seem to really trust you to tell their stories. What was the process like for gaining that trust?
MO: I think it's just about being honest and making the story them. I think it involves a lot of research and making sure that you showed the respect to the person sitting across from you that you have done your due diligence…but letting them guide you on which road they want to take. So while I might go into an interview thinking I know what they're going to talk about, often times, that's where they take this path I didn't even know they wanted to go down and it turns into this really beautiful thing. I think that's what builds trust and listen, we are on the road, we're in these confined spaces before and after. They know that you're not there to play like a gotcha game. We work for the promotion. There's no secret in that our job here is to elevate our athletes,but do so on a platform that they choose in a story that they choose to open up to about with us. So I think when they understand that you're not trying to catch them in any sort of story or stir the pot in any particular way, I think that also really lends itself to a very trustworthy relationship as well.
UFC: Outside of your husband’s fights, what’s a UFC goosebump moment that you’ll never forget?
MO: recently I think the goose bump moment for me was definitely you Joanna Jędrzejczyk versus Zhang Weili [at UFC 248, March 2020]. I was sitting Octagon-side for that. I sit next to Daniel Cormier and the matchmakers and I think we were all kind of looking around like “Is this real life?”
I think to have it be a women's fight that made that moment happen was even more special because it's only still been a few years--I don't even think it's been a full 10 years--that women have been fighting inside the Octagon. And so that for me was a goosebumps moment and to look back at it now and know that that was our last pay per view before Covid hit and this long layoff without fans, it was really a spectacular moment.
UFC: Speaking of your husband--former UFC flyweight title contender Joseph Benavidez--tell us about meeting him and why he was the one.
MO: I met Joe in 2009 and, you know, I don't know, he was just like, so confident in who he was.I was going to graduate school. I just graduated college, I was on my way to graduate school. We just stayed in touch like we were good friends. He asked for my email at the end of the night after we met. He’s like “Do you have email?” and I was like, “Yeah bro, I have email [laughs].” So we just sort of emailed and then we'd talk on the phone and those months turned into over a year and then I got a job offer in Las Vegas. I knew that he was really special and when I got the offer to move to Vegas, it was for more money than I was making in New York City and I just thought, you know, I need to try. You can always move back to New York and be poor, right?
But I needed to try something because I was really struggling there and this sort of felt like a dream situation and so I moved to Las Vegas. This guy liked was not far away in Sacramento and then things just blossomed. He's just like the funniest, most caring, confident-in-himself-but-selfless person you could ever meet.
I think anyone who's involved with the UFC organization really considers Joe to be a part of the family because he's like the mayor: he walks in and it takes him an hour to get through a room because he wants to talk to everybody about everything. He genuinely cares and to me like there's not a more beautiful quality in a human being than wanting to speak with maybe somebody who's on the janitorial team just as much as you want to speak with an executive and genuinely care about those conversations. So Joe is just…he's just the greatest. He's so funny. Man, the years he fought were definitely stressful--they were fun and like they’re roller coaster that I would never forget--but now that he's retired and I watch fights and like “How did you do that and how did I do that?” Man, that was weird.
UFC: I often marveled at how two young married professionals at the top of their respective games were able to be so happy while often traveling in opposite directions. What advice would you give a younger couple who found themselves in a similar situation?
MO: My advice is definitely just to communicate. Joe and I were friends and we lived across the country but we talked a lot or sent each other jokes or whatever. We never lived together until we got married and so that foundation was communication and it was built on trust. Now in our marriage, if I go off to do an NFL weekend and he was training, it's fine.
We probably communicate more than most maybe married couples do when they're apart. But that's what we're used to and that's how we built a foundation that is so strong and sort of a love for one another as we lived in different states. And so my advice would definitely just to be like just communicate. Especially with technology now, like how hard is it to FaceTime for 10 minutes once or twice a day? That's not hard. And text. It makes the other person feel involved.
UFC: Then fast-forward to 2020, there’s a pandemic and we’re all quarantined, and then Joe retires. So after all those years of traveling apart, now you’re suddenly together a lot more. What has that been like?
MO: You know, we like each other so that helps [laughs]. But we also like both do our own things. He knows that I have a very demanding job and that it requires a lot of quiet time because I need to research and write and aall this stuff. So he's really respectful of that.
With his retirement, he is figuring out regular life, like what he likes to do, which sounds funny, but he didn't really have those years of like learning what you like, what you don't like in internships and stuff. So he's kind of going through that right now. But it's fun. We come together every morning, we have coffee together and every night we watch trash TV together and that's sort of what brings us back to one another before and after every day.
It’s cool. It's definitely different because now, there's a lot more time together, but now he gets to travel with me. He'll come to fights. He just came to Madison Square Garden. He'll come with other gigs that I do. He gets to come and sort of see the experience in a different way now as a “normie,” as he says
UFC: You mentioned the NFL, where we sometimes get to see you on the sidelines…the day after a UFC event! How do you have that much energy and what has that experience been like?
MO: The energy thing is a good question because I think maybe sometimes people don't understand how draining it can really be to be on and to do interviews into sometimes carry emotions for people. It's the highest highs and the lowest lows in MMA and that can be really challenging when you care about people, which we do for everybody on our roster. You come home from work and it's not just like “Oh, I talked on TV.” It's not like that, it is so emotionally and mentally draining.Then to be able to do it again and again, it really takes like a lot of time management and just figuring out what to do on those down moments that can sort of recenter me and make me my best for these athletes that I'm working with.
But then to do NFL…it's just been amazing. I remember getting that last minute call from my first season--which was now four seasons ago--and I waited outside dana Dana White's office for hours, just waiting to make sure I could talk to him first, because this is my home and without this, I can't do those other things and without this, I wouldn't have the opportunity; they wouldn't see the skill set that I have developed to be able to work on NFL sidelines. I remember waiting outside his office and it was the end of the day and you know, I said, “Hey, I want to talk to you, I was presented this opportunity, but I want to make sure that this is approved by you and the execs and my producers here. It won't come first, but it certainly could be an amazing secondary thing.” They were so supportive and it just felt really validating to have that sort of support in the building.
There have been weekends where I go from a fight to an NFL sideline at an overnight game and neither one isn't negatively impacted because I've organized that and I've figured out how to make that work. But to have the support of this building and everyone who works here to be able to do those challenges and I like to think that it sort of helps elevate what I do on both ends. It shows that shows that I can hold the bar at a really high level.
UFC: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention fashion. Your husband is of course the original ‘Dapper Scrapper,’ and fans go crazy breaking down your amazing fight night wardrobes. What goes into choosing those outfits?
MO: I love that you asked this because I sort of needed Joe to like give me a reality check about that because I sometimes would be upset. I love clothes. I love clothes but sometimes I would be upset if people were like talking about my clothes more than what was coming out of my mouth. But Joe put it into perspective. He's like “No, they know you're doing great work but like this also elevates it. There's not a lot of sportscasters that people want to talk about what they're wearing every week.” To have people care I guess it's cool, it adds another facet.
It might be the hardest part of my job though, figuring out what to wear every fight because I'm like “I don't want people to think I copied this or I wore this again or what if this doesn't look good on camera…so it's very stressful. I bring like three outfits every show but I do love it. I secretly love it and I wish I could do like some sort of clothing line or like a behind-the-scenes blog…something about clothes, because dressing for TV is so different than dressing for real life. But I love clothes. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't do anything fun. But I love clothes and coffee. Those are my vices [laughs].
UFC: Not everyone knows in your early career you had a stint in MLB. Having come up in a time when there weren’t a ton of women sportscasters and oftentimes you were the only woman in the room, can you speak to some of the challenges you faced in the early-going that the average viewer might not understand?
MO: I think that there have been some tremendous women who have sort of paved a way to having a woman work on a broadcast, whether it's on a sideline or, or in a studio and it's not weird. It's not jarring to a viewer. It shouldn't be, but there was a time that it probably was.
So you look at women like Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews and Michele Tafoya and everything that they have done to get other women to this point. But there's certainly been challenges. Listen, we would be lying if we didn't say women are probably judged first on how they look and then, then what comes out of their mouths and oftentimes you hope that whatever you're wearing or whatever sort of bad hair day you might be having is negated by the information that you're providing the viewer. Oftentimes that's not the case.
But I think I am fortunate enough to work in a capacity where [what I’m saying] is the most valuable. Joe Rogan wears the same shirt probably every pay per view and I love Joe, but like nobody really cares, right? But if I run the same shirt, every fight, somebody will probably care and that's fine. It's just the unique challenges. All of us have a different set of challenges and a different set of perspectives that were coming from. I think also with women in sports there's also this weird sort of generalization that you must just be there because they have to check a box or you are cute or you are related to somebody.
And that is not the case here.
I mean, I have been working in the trenches to get here. I'm really proud of with our pay-per-view broadcast because there are a lot of options that they could go with and there are a lot of directions they could go in, but I am the only woman on our pay-per-view team from pre-show to post-show to the actual broadcast. I have been the only woman for several years now and to be able to hold that position. I think people don't actually look at it that I am the only woman. They're just like, “Oh, there's Megan.” That's always my goal is to just be the best one. Not “she's the best woman” or “she is a woman,” just “Oh, there's Megan and she's the best one for that role.” That's really where my drive comes from is to make people forget any of that. I want to be considered just the best, period.
UFC: You’ve already forgotten more fights than most people will probably ever see. After all these years, what part of this still gets you excited?
MO: That's a really good question. You know what's crazy about this job? I get excited all the time, every weekend. It doesn't matter if it's in the Apex or if we are in this legendary venue or international. I genuinely get nervous for main events in a weird way. Like “I don't have a dog in this fight and my husband is not in the Octagon, why am I so nervous?” I will be shaking like “What's going to happen you guys?” And I think that's why we still love this job. We've watched and called and worked thousands of fights at this point, but it doesn't get old because you just never know what's going to happen.
When the first problem kicks off and you hear that [tale of the tape feature music], that opening…it’s still so genuinely thrilling. I think that's like what keeps us so passionate every week. We genuinely love this. We genuinely care about the athletes. We still are pumped to have a front row seat for all of this. It does not get old.
This is the best job ever and to be able to play some sort of role in the broadcast of these that goes out to the world? Man, what a dream. This is the life, honestly.