Ann Wolfe: Boxer, Trainer, Philosopher

Stacy W.L.Correspondent IFebruary 5, 2009

Many of you know Ann Wolfe as a female titleholder in four weight classes.  The popular YouTube video of her knocking Vanda Ward unconscious with one punch says it all about her domination in the ring.

Others of you may know Ann as a top female trainer, guiding her protégé James Kirkland up the ranks through Golden Boy Boxing Promotions.  ESPN and HBO commentators talk with awe about her old school, 100% blood sweat and tears approach to training.

You may be interested to know Ann Wolfe also as a philosopher of boxing, of the soul, of courage, and mental toughness, and even of fear. In this conversation with Ann, she outlined some of the boxing principles she puts into practice with her Wolfepack of amateur and professional boxers, male and female, ages 6 to 66.

Ann came to boxing through the oldest doorway into the sport--survival skills.  She learned to fight to survive, to protect her family.  This includes both the siblings she helped through the death of their parents and the three children of her own she now fiercely protects. Ann puts it simply, "I got no breaks."

Ann calls boxing a "poor-man's sport," a ticket out of nowhere.  She herself has experienced that 'nowhere'-- she was living on the streets before she found her trainer Pops Billingsley and a boxing career and then helped others get off of the streets by founding her own gym. Ann learned in school that she could use her mental and physical advantages over other girls on the basketball team to cope with the fact that she never fit in, "My shoes didn't match the other girls' shoes.  But I could score 30 points while they were scoring 4."

Though she respects the sport of boxing and where it has led her, she also acknowledges the toll it takes on the "mind, body, and soul of the fighter."  She is also blunt about the punishment fighters take throughout the years, as she explains, "boxing is so cruel and it is like killing."

Ann passes this fact on to her boxers from the first time they enter into the ring.  She tells her fighters that they need to get in touch with their inner killers as they step through the ropes, warning them that their opponents will also have destruction on their minds.

One of Ann's skills as a trainer is the ability to evaluate and train each fighter differently.  Her survival skills have led her to view each person she meets 'as if they were naked'--stripping them of money, charm, ego, and sniffing out their inner motivations.  "I try to figure out what motivates them and what moves them.  I try to bring out the best and the worst in each fighter--the strengths and the fears.  When you can tap into people's real emotions, you can get them to perform at their best."  She also explains that a boxing gym is of necessity a place where people learn life lessons as well as skills
and toughness.  Though learning how to dominate in the ring can be one part of becoming a great boxer, it is only one part, as she points out, "In order to be a whole boxer, you've got to be a whole person outside of the gym."

It does all start in the gym, though, and the first test for most of the boxers who walk through the door is a confrontation in the ring with Ann herself.  Men, women, boys, girls, anyone who gets in the ring with Ann finds themselves face-to-face with a woman whose mental toughness is even more overwhelming than her physical strength.

"I've faced so much, you can put me in a room with anyone and I know how to survive.  I think that's who I am," she explains.  "I'm so mentally strong, if you even think you have a chance to beat me I'm going to hurt you."  After one or two rounds in the ring with Ann, each boxer comes to learn two things--respect for her as a trainer, and an understanding of how well they can face down the fear in their own hearts.  Some boxers don't come back.  The ones who return, Ann laughs, have "paid the piper," and are ready to start preparing for the cold reality of the ring, as well as for its seductive rewards of honor, prestige, and riches.