Chatting about Italian American roots with UFC’s Megan Olivi

The ultimate on-air reporter, host, and interviewer talks about her family and heritage

Megan Olivi is an on-camera multi-hyphenate for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), working as a host, reporter, and interviewer. Married to former UFC flyweight title challenger Joseph Benavidez, Olivi is also a fiercely proud Italian-American.

Born in New Jersey, the 35-year-old grew up in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in a large community of Italian Americans. 

In August, she’ll be celebrating her birthday in Italy, so America Domani caught up with Olivi to discuss her previous vacations, her family traditions, and the best “Off the Strip” place for Italians in Las Vegas.

Where are your family’s roots?

So three of my four grandparents were born in Italy — one of my grandfathers was born in America; his name was Roosevelt because they wanted to show that they loved their new country.

The majority of my family is from a region called Marche, on the east coast of Italy, in the middle of the country. I also have family from Naples and a little bit of family from Sicily. Marche is where the majority of my family resides, and there is actually a beautiful hotel there called Casa Olivi. My goal is to be able to take my family there on a trip one day. I don’t know if it’s a direct descendent or not of ours, but it’s a little too coincidental.

What was the Italian community like where you grew up?

I thought everybody was Italian growing up. It wasn’t until I got older that I was like, “Wait, what do you mean you’re Hungarian?” because the majority of people where I’m from — both where I was born in New Jersey and where I was raised right across the border in Pennsylvania — has a huge, huge, huge Italian population.

You’re in the minority if you’re not Italian.

How many times have you been to Italy and where have you visited during those trips?

I’ve only been there a handful of times, but we go several weeks at a time. We have been to a lot of places — Rome, all over Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Venice, and all over Puglia, which is one of my favorite places ever. 

We try to make the very most of our trips and the time we have there because it’s so easy to just want to go back (to the same places). I love Rome, I would love to live in Rome one day, but there’s an entire country to explore.

What is it about being Italian-American that makes it such an important part of your identity?

Being American and Italian is everything about your identity, in my family — you have so much pride in where you live and the country that allows you this type of life, and so much pride in your heritage, the traditions of your heritage, and the sacrifices that my family made.

In my family, being Italian means you understand tradition. It’s a part of your DNA to think that traditions are important and of value, and really non-negotiable as you become adults and start a family of your own.

Growing up, we always wanted to learn about where we came from and the sacrifices our family members made for us to be here because every generation wants the next to do better.

What were some of the family traditions from the Olivi household and what are traditions you carry on now in your own home?

Growing up, Sunday Dinners were not just for your immediate family, but also for your extended family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; everybody is coming together, every Sunday for a huge meal. My mom still hosts Sunday Dinner every week.

And then I think one of the biggest things for me — and you don’t realize how important it is growing up until you become an adult and see that not everyone lives that way — is making dinner every night, and then having a meal as a family.

I come from a family of three children, and we all had sports and clubs, and there is a huge age gap, my dad traveled for work, so everybody was doing different things, but the majority of the time, if we could wait for somebody to come home from practice, we’d have family dinner. If my dad came home late, my mom put his food aside, and we all sat at the table with him so he wasn’t alone and that’s when we talked about our days.

That’s something Joseph and I do every single day; have dinner together. That is one of the most important things I learned growing up in an Italian household.

What are the go-to Italian meals, snacks, and treats that you’re constantly craving?

I love hand-making pasta. I feel a connection with my grandmothers and my mom — my grandmothers taught my mom, my mom taught me — and it’s an art that has been lost for a little while, but now people are starting to do it again. 

I hand-cut raviolis, gnocchi, spaghetti, orecchiette; yeah, I make everything. I make every sauce from scratch. I also love making lasagna because Joe loves lasagna and it gives me this euphoric feeling like “Oh My God — he loves this and I made this and every part of it is mine!”

I also love making things like Eggplant Parmesan, chicken cutlets with arugula, and a kale Parmesan salad with roasted tomatoes. When we go to Italy there are things I bring back. There is a soup from Tuscany that is basically bread and tomato and I will make that in the winter because it’s so bomb, and if I didn’t grow up with it, but I go to Italy and I love it, I try to replicate it at home.

My favorite snack to have — if I could have it every single day I would, but it’s not that prevalent here in America — it’s called maritozzo, it’s this amazing pastry filled with cream and it’s the greatest thing ever.

I love granita, and who doesn’t love just meat and cheese together?

What are some of the cities that have great Italian spots you’ve been to and what’s the Las Vegas Italian scene like?

Japan. Tokyo has some great Italian food.

(Former UFC owner) Lorenzo Fertitta told me that way back in the day and I was like, “That’s weird,” but he knows stuff, obviously, and he’s Italian, so he was probably correct in whatever he was saying. We went to an Italian place in Tokyo and it was so good that we ended up going back before we left Tokyo.

In Vegas, I wouldn’t say there is “hole-in-the-wall” Italian, but I would say there are “off-the-strip spots” and the best one for me is La Strega, which is run by a female head chef, Gina Marinelli. They have authentic, coastal Italian, and a seasonal menu based on what is in season, available, and fresh.

In New York, I have a personal connection with a place called Emilio’s Balloto in New York City — it’s rated one of the best restaurants in the country. It’s a family-owned restaurant — father and sons where now the son is the chef, Chef Anthony, and his other son Emilio is the maître d’ in the restaurant. It’s a small spot, but incredible food, is very authentic, and you feel like you’re at home when you’re there as well.


Any final thoughts?

I saw a TikTok a couple of weeks ago and it was like, “My ancestors are so proud of me: cooking meals, dressing impeccably, but not letting anybody get away with any s***!” and that encompasses being Italian, right?

I try to show my pride in being Italian when I work, wearing t-shirts that have Italian cities or Italian phrases when I can — I wore a gnocchi t-shirt when I did a Q&A with (UFC welterweight champion) Kamaru Usman not that long ago.

I have a lot of pride in (being Italian). I married a person who is 100 percent Mexican, and the pride we have in our nationalities and each other is such a beautiful thing, and that’s what the American dream is, right?

Spencer Kyte

Spencer Kyte is a freelance digital content creator based in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, where he lives with his wife. He plays in too many fantasy football leagues, is a pretty solid cook, and prefers red over white, but not in a snobby way. Follow his work phone on social media: @spencerkyte.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Spencer Kyte is a freelance digital content creator based in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, where he lives with his wife. He plays in too many fantasy football leagues, is a pretty solid cook, and prefers red over white, but not in a snobby way. Follow his work phone on social media: @spencerkyte.

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