Ann Najjar makes a living telling athletes bigger than her, stronger, richer and more famous than her what to do.
There’s no reason anyone can’t follow her lead, she says. They just have to have the determination to go for it and the desire to work hard getting there.
Najjar is the “Mitt Queen,” who turned her affection for hanging out with her brother at boxing and MMA gyms in her hometown of San Diego, Calif., holding mitts for other fighters working on their hand speed and coordination into a hustle that’s seen her training pro boxers, UFC grapplers, NBA, Major League Baseball as well as NFL players and even movie stars.
On Monday, Feb. 12, Najjar told students at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary about her unlikely career path that most recently landed her a role in the Hollywood film, Creed III, after training its star and director, Michael B. Jordan, for more than five months to take his latest instalment of the Rocky spinoff to the next level.
She’d been brought to the school by Centennial alumnus, Adel Gamar, whose Gamar Foundation works to empower, inspire and engage young women to break barriers and take on leadership roles.
Najjar also spoke to students at Simon Fraser University (SFU).
Gamar said he hoped the audiences of young people would take Najjar’s story of ambition and achievement to heart.
“I believe girls and women have agency to enhance our world while achieving their dreams,” he said.
Najjar said she started going to the gym with her brother, Sean, when she was 18. She said she just wanted to learn the sport.
But without a lot of women Najjar could work out with, she said she helped the other boxers in their training, mostly holding the heavily-padded round mitts they aimed their punches at while doing speed drills or perfecting combinations.
Najjar said she was good at her role, didn’t take any sass. Soon enough, the athletes started seeking her out.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Najjar lost the other three jobs she was already holding down, she started posting some of her training sessions on her Instagram account. They got noticed; one video attracted more than 100,000 views. Top boxers and MMA fighters outside her regular gym circuit reached out, asked if she could work with them.
Another three-second video clip of Najjar working with MMA fighter Jeremy Stephens as he prepared to reinvent himself as a boxer was viewed more than three million times and got picked up by ESPN. Athletes from other sports, like basketball, baseball and football, got in touch.
Najjar became a trainer full-time.
“Let’s just see what can happen,” she said. “You never know what you can do with it.”
Najjar said the secret to her success is her ability to treat all her clients forthrightly and honestly; if they’re not giving 100 per cent, she’ll let them know in no uncertain terms no matter their public profile or size of their bank account.
“I talk a lot of crap,” she said. “If I'm telling you you’re not good, that means I like you.”
Najjar said the offer to work with Jordan on his Creed movie project came out of nowhere. She’d never heard of the actor, nor the previous Creed films.
The process of turning Jordan into a credible boxer started five months before filming and by the time cameras were rolling, Najjar had been written into the script with a small, but pivotal, role.
Her one speaking line, “Bro, you suck,” was a motivator for Jordan’s character, retired boxer Apollo Creed, to step up his training regime if he was to take his comeback to the ring seriously. It was also a reward for the work she’d put in with the film’s star as it made her eligible to receive a royalty cheque from box office receipts every six months.
“You have to find a niche and stick to it,” Najjar advised her audience.
Gamar said Najjar’s story is “feel good stuff.”
Although the volunteers plucked from the bleachers in Centennial’s gym to participate in an impromptu push-up challenge might have begged to differ by the time their one-minute sets were up.