Ebanie Bridges: “I Go After What I Want.”
Fighters are creatures of habit, the repetition and monotony are on daily repeat. Some love it, many more probably complain, thoughts of a normal life never far away. But take it away and fighters become in many ways incomplete.
The unbeaten Australian Ebanie Bridges saw a world title opportunity slip through her fingers last month when a shoulder injury robbed her of a fight with Rachel Ball for the vacant WBA bantamweight title. It was a painful twist in her fortunes, training camp was nearly finished and going well, and Bridges went to a deep dark place of her emotions. Instead of finally making that trip to the UK to fight Ball for the world title, the long trip from America, where her camp was finishing up, back to Australia started.
Covid restrictions meant Bridges had to spend two weeks in a hotel room in her motherland before she could get back to home comforts. Once the initial jet lag wore off it was a different kind of monotony. Hours lost watching boxing, time spent drawing, another passion of hers, her endless routine of media interviews continued, Bridges is in constant demand.
But the period of isolation in that one solitary place with no fresh air saw Bridges fall ill while in that hotel room which must have got smaller and smaller as the days passed. Headaches, nausea made the days drag because she felt so sick.
Bridges lost plenty through the injury. With the fight purse gone and the cost of the compulsory quarantine had to be met by Bridges:
“It was $3,000 for the quarantine, obviously I lost money, it was was money spent for nothing. I have very good sponsors luckily, one of my biggest sponsors is Riches Boxing he helped me out a lot, I was very blessed and lucky with that. It is my sponsors that are really out of pocket, I will be out of pocket for the next fight because I don’t feel right asking my sponsors for more money when the fight will get rescheduled, I just don’t think it is fair. I am sure they would help me out, but I feel bad, they gave me all this money. I still have some of it but I have put it away because I will need to carry it over for the next fight.”
With the injury on the mend, Bridges is hoping to be back punching later this month, but despite the urge to make up for lost time, Bridges is airing on the side of caution wanting a full training camp of around 8 weeks and is targeting a ring return around February/March next year.
But will Bridges get her wish and fight Ball straight away when she returns. Ball will fight early next year but with Shannon Courtenay looking to reverse the loss she suffered to Ball in August, Bridges could miss out at least in the immediate future:
“I don’t think anyone wants to see Rachel fight Shannon again except for Shannon. I know Rachel wants to fight me, I know they will probably have some kind of contract, but what is the point. If Eddie Hearn wants the rematch in February then why not wait another few weeks and put Rachel in with me. But if he does go for the rematch I will definitely have a fight here in Australia, but that is a risk for Eddie, what if I lose. I’m not going to wait around I have already been out of the ring a year. Ball would have had two fights, so the longer the wait the worse it is for me. So it is either Rachel ASAP or I will do another fight over here. But I want to fight Rachel and get over to the UK.”
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Bridges in 2020. Outside of perhaps the hardcore boxing fan, Bridges was largely unknown. But in a lesson to others, Bridges has got her name out there to a much larger audience. I can remember my first interaction with her, I was copied into her timeline suggesting I interview her. I replied saying she was on my wish list, and almost immediately she replied, ‘no more wishing let’s get it done’ an early indication of her desire to get in as many interviews as humanly possible. There was the inevitable and repeated tagging in of Eddie Hearn by her fans, and eventually, she got noticed:
“My manager dropped my name to Eddie and he said I was intriguing. I was organising a fight over here in Australia for the WBA title, it was already in my hands. Everyone thinks I shouldn’t be getting the world title shot but I am the one who bought it to the UK, my name was next to it. I was supposed to be fighting for the title over here, then some dodgy crap went down and the fight fell through. Then my manager contacted Eddie and asked if he would be interested in doing a fight for the WBA title, and then Eddie wrote back suggesting Ebanie Bridges against Rachel Ball.”
Promoters are there to build a fighter, sell their story, but I have always believed it does work both ways. Social media is free, and some fighters just don’t use it, even ones without a major promoter where the need is greater. You can’t moan and just sit and do nothing, fans won’t gravitate to you automatically. If you don’t get heard, nobody will hear, if you are invisible nobody will see, nobody will care. Don’t rely on others to dictate the future.
Bridges understood this, and while some may complain about her methods, nobody can argue it hasn’t worked:
“I remember seeing something from Bob Arum about Terence Crawford about him not doing interviews, he would have a much bigger fanbase if he did more interviews. I think that is important, Anthony Joshua for example he is mainstream, interest from all walks of life, not just boxing fans. So by doing loads of interviews or whatever if that gets me in the papers, gets my name out and create a wider interest then why not. I look it in a business-minded way. It’s like any business you have to invest in it with time and money. It is not just about skills, it is the character, the story, everything. There are a lot of very skilled fighters who nobody are interested in. It is a very competitive market and you have to bring something that people want to see. It has been a lot of hard work, back-to-back interviews. But some of the other girls have now seen it and they are starting to do the same now.”
As Bridges says herself there is more than one way to get heard and seen, find out what is best for you. Boxing is very much an entertainment business, and on any scale of the sport, you need fans to care, to watch and to buy tickets. Bridges hasn’t left her future in the hands of others, saying yes to virtually everyone, she took control and there are lessons to be learned from her methods:
“I go after what I want.”
Look a little deeper you see a different side to Bridges. A one-time mechanic, now a maths teacher, combining teaching with a professional boxing career leaves little time for anything else. But when time allows Bridges finds solace and comfort in another passion:
“I’ve been drawing my whole life, my father was an artist I have grown up around art. Once I start drawing I can’t stop, but I didn’t draw for about 10 years I was just too busy. But when I broke my ankle in my professional debut I was very much housebound and from somebody who is normally travelling to three different places I had to do something otherwise I would have gone crazy so I started drawing again. Then I picked it up again through Covid. It is like meditation for me because it takes my mind off things.”
Bridges will face an anxious wait over the next few weeks, as the injury clears up she will have to bide her time and wait to see how the future pans out, the cards are in the process of being dealt.
Shannon Courtenay has recently returned with a win and wants the rematch with Ball, Eddie Hearn is pushing for that fight also. Ball has repeated her desire to honour the previous agreement and fight Bridges. But boxing has a way, and the big-time promoters usually get theirs.
Despite the injury and losing her dream opportunity Bridges can look back on a year where she achieved plenty, and all that preparation for what lies ahead will start to reap the rewards early next year when she returns to the ring.
To fully understand Bridges you have to understand where she has come from. Bridges has turned her life around from those troublesome times in her youth. There is a determination to not accept anything in life, a stubbornness maybe to not fall into an accepted path and to change perceptions of what many view as normal. There is resentment and jealousy, but Bridges won’t care.
There are many who are waiting for Bridges to fall, and sadly for them, will take great delight in that. But Bridges has built her fanbase with hard work which gets lost with the negativity around her. A new year will give the Australian opportunities to show what she is capable of in the ring.
The mission to get noticed has been accomplished, respect from the doubters will be harder to achieve. But you sense Bridges is more than ready for what lies ahead, and win or lose her success won’t be decided by a lack of effort.