Ann Najjar has fast hands.
So fast she can keep up with boxers twice her size. Boxers who, over the last few years, have lined up to work with her.
Najjar is the Mitt Queen, a coach at Bomber Squad Boxing Academy in her native San Diego. Thanks to an Instagram account (@mittqueen) that has almost 610,000 followers, she has become an online sensation.
She is in Dubai as the coach of Josh Bridges, who on Saturday night will fight on the undercard at the MTK Global boxing CoreSports Fight Night 3 at Sport Society, where the main event sees Hafthor Bjornsson, The Mountain from “Games of Thrones,” take on Devon Larratt in an all-Strongman battle.
Bridges is a CrossFit athlete and the 32-year-old Najjar has overseen every step of his boxing journey.
But becoming a boxing coach happened to her by accident after she joined her brother, an MMA fighter, for training sessions when she was 20.
It turned out she had a gift few others could match.
“When I did take my first MMA class because of my brother, all our classes in San Diego had mitts included, a lot of gyms don’t have that,” Najjar told Arab News. “And everyone always wanted to be my partner because I was good at holding the mitts, and in reality it’s not that easy to hold mitts. Eventually I became the one everybody wanted to partner up with, and then year and years went by and I just got better at it.”
Though she had been a trainer for almost a decade, it was only during the last two years that Najjar’s profile skyrocketed, thanks to a video on Instagram.
“When the pandemic first hit in the US, I decided to post my first video of me holding mitts and just messing around, because I knew everybody was on their phones at the time looking at Instagram,” she said. “And then my first video went viral, about 100,000 views, and I kept posting and posting and posting until one of my videos hit over 18 million views.”
Najjar is a first-generation American, born and raised in San Diego to parents from Baghdad. Her Instagram account proudly bears the Iraqi flag.
“The thing is, it’s not only me, but my fighters also are very quick, or very big, so seeing a female holding the mitts behind it is really what intrigued everyone to want to follow me and watch what I was doing because there’s not that many females who can hold for someone so quick or someone so huge, double my size,” she added.
Najjar, aka the Mitt Queen, has become a boxing coach for athletes and celebrities in her native San Diego. (RBO)
“In reality, I have to thank Instagram, because it’s what really got me out there and everyone saw what I was doing.”
Soon celebrities started seeking her out, as did leading athletes in other sports. Her profile grew organically, she said.
“Honestly, it was one word after the other and they or their managers would contact me through Instagram,” said Najjar. “And because boxing cardio is great for all athletes, a lot of them on their off season like to box. It helps them with their footwork in their sport.”
Is Najjar ever tempted to swap the mitts for gloves and get in the ring?
“Honestly for me, at the age I’m at, the answer is no,” she said. “In the past I did think about it, I did spar all the time, but the older I’m getting I’m realizing coaching is the way for me, I love to teach, to watch people grow from the beginning."
The pride she gets is from seeing her fighters succeed, and from their appreciation of the role she plays in their preparation.
“There are moments for me that I can’t believe are true, like when Ryan Garcia calls me to hold mitts for him. Anderson Silva called me to tell me he won his fight,” Najjar said. “These guys, I sat behind the TV set and watched them fight, and that now they are calling me is unreal to me.”
Najjar was holding a training session at Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai’s Al-Quoz, but she has also had time to enjoy the sights, which were more familiar than she expected.
“It’s like Las Vegas for me, I feel like I’m at home, to be honest,” she said. “I went to the sand dunes and that was wild, I was scared out of my mind. I was in that car holding on for dear life. But culture and everything is very Americanized. Seeing everything in English and Arabic, I’m like ok, I know what I’m doing here. I feel very comfortable here.”
On Saturday night, Najjar will be ringside at Sport Society cheering on Bridges when he takes on fellow American Jacob Heppner in a bout between two CrossFit athletes.
“What people don’t know is that Josh started with me from day one, when he threw his first punch and didn’t even know what a jab was,” she said. “To see all the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I want to prove to the world that, yes, I can start someone from day one, not knowing how to punch, and turn them into that fighter.”