Ebanie Bridges: “I built me, this is me, & I’ll never change.”

Ebanie Bridges: “I don’t have people telling me what to do or how to be. I built me, this is me, and I’ll never change.”

There was a lot of hype leading up to this past weekends fight for the WBA bantamweight title between Shannon Courtenay and Ebanie Bridges. A build-up which divided opinion, but it attracted far more eyes to the fight than it would if it had been Courtenay against anyone else. The Australian had led the merry promotional dance, promoting the fight almost single handled. There was no doubt that some journalists were waiting to type up their post-fight reports with that wry smile born out of preconceived opinions or lack of understanding of what Bridges was trying to achieve. Many couldn’t see the fighter that was there in plain sight.

Bridges proved her point, that she could fight and to a very high level. One respected writer said it was possibly the best female fight ever seen on British soil. High praise, but a view not without merit. It was a titanic, brutal savage fight, the perfect fight to convince any lingering doubters about the validity of women’s boxing.

Courtenay prevailed on points, but the wide margins on the judges cards looked to be extremely wide of the mark to how most people saw the fight. It looked an even fight after 8 rounds, the fight still very much in the balance. But the official scorecards gave Bridges little credit for her work, and failed to fully reward her for her contribution in a potential Fight of the Year candidate. Bridges was also unhappy about the margins on the cards:

“I saw it as a draw. There were a lot of swing rounds, she could have won it, I could have won it, but I think a draw would have been really fair. The scoring was ridiculous, I got no credit for my defence, I was slipping, avoiding most of her punches, except for one or two and I was countering her with short jabs and hooks and my uppercut was landing. I was listening to the commentary and I was thinking why was there no credit to my defence, I have got the best defence out of all the girls.”

On my card I had the fight level with two rounds to go, Courtenay won the 9th, but the 10th was a round that could have gone either way, even though by that stage the judges had Bridges too far behind to salvage the contest. I could see more than a fair argument for the draw, but regardless of the cards Bridges felt the deciding factor was the horrific swelling over her left eye:

“I thought the 10th was really close, but I gave myself the round. If I could see it would have been a completely different story. I just couldn’t see out of my eye, so I had to change my game plan to try and stay away from her right hand. It was hard because that wasn’t what I wanted to do, she kept going to her right, and I wanted to go to my right, it just wasn’t working the way I planned. I couldn’t sit back and counter her because I couldn’t see the punches coming, so I had to kind of sit on her chest to keep out of the way of the right hand. My depth perception was out, she was throwing short little right hooks and they were landing because I couldn’t see them coming.”

Despite the injury, Bridges refused to quit, changing her game plan to compensate for the obvious lack of vision. The Australian had a very big 7th round, where Bridges looked as though she would be too strong for her opponent, but by the closing rounds the eye was completely shut:

“Around the 4th or 5th round it started bothering me, she headbutted me around the 4th round. In the 7th round, it really started to swell up, then in the 9th I couldn’t see at all, it was closed it was done.”

Despite putting on a display that exceeded some people’s expectations, especially with the severe eye injury, Bridges, ever the perfectionist, still sees areas where she can improve going forward and especially for the rematch with Courtenay which Bridges has already set her sights on:

“We had a game plan of going to the body more, so I neglected that a little, I could have thrown more body shots. But looking back on it I still did really well, I’m just disappointed I didn’t get credit for my defence and head movement, I thought my defence was brilliant, I was catching a lot of her punches. I could have thrown more punches, but Shannon was very strong, I underestimated her a little, I could have used more angles, I could analyse the hell out of myself. But considering I only had short notice for Shannon, I had to go through three different time zones. I had my coach from home who I hadn’t done any work with, I had done the short camp with the guys from Philadelphia. First time in the UK and on a big stage overall I thought I did really well. I do think if it wasn’t for the eye injury it would have been a different outcome.”

Bridges got a late call up for the fight with Courtenay and straight after her own comeback fight. But refreshingly Bridges didn’t offer this up as a potential excuse or reason for her defeat:

“I felt the best I had ever felt in the ring, I felt so strong, my legs felt great, everything was good. The only reason I wanted a longer camp was to focus on her and a specific game plan for more than 3 weeks. There was only a few weeks to change my style and concentrate on her. I could only think of Courtenay after the Carol Earl fight.”

There are times when you can win even in defeat, and it would appear Bridges is in such a position. Her stock has risen substantially despite the first loss on her record. The standard of performance and the whole vibe around the Australian has placed Bridges as a fighter in very high demand:

“I have spoken to Eddie Hearn today and we have just started negotiating a deal, he can’t not have me back. I have broken records in numbers of views during the week, but it is about me now getting paid what I am worth, my stock has just gone up significantly. But Eddie knows I am a good draw, he wants to work with me and I want to work with him. I have been contacted by a few promoters in America as well, I won’t say who, but they now know what I bring to the table.”

There are hidden sacrifices every fighter has to make. Time away from loved ones, long hours in the gym, little energy when they are at home. A life as a boxer is one of complete dedication, selfishness even. Bridges, a maths teacher in Australia, is putting her career and her personal life on hold in search of achieving her goal to become a world champion:

“I’m not going home, I am going back to Philadelphia to start my next training camp. To go back to Australia and spend 3k on a quarantined hotel, after I have just spent the same amount on my coach to go back home, that’s 6k just for quarantine to just sit in a hotel room. It’s just not worth it if I am going to fight again soon. I had to tell my boyfriend this today, I have had to sacrifice my relationship for now, I have to put boxing before him. I’m glad he understands, I hope he understands I just hope I still have a boyfriend when I go back home. I am making a lot of sacrifices with money, my job, my work. I need to get some sponsors on board to help put food on the table while I am in camp. I don’t make excuses I do what I have to do, my goal is to be a world champion and if I have to make these sacrifices I will.”

With a planned return to action in 8 or 9 weeks and a return trip to the UK the intended target, another passion of hers could decide where she lands next. Bridges has made no secret of her love for Leeds United, the flag prominent throughout fight week and is already seeking a place on the undercard of the next Josh Warrington fight, which looks set to be in Leeds:

“I would love to be on a Josh Warrington card, that would be unreal, Leeds fans are insane, they really support their own. I think my fighting style suits Leeds as well, they have a got a very aggressive side, I love everything about Leeds.”

There was criticism from some in the build-up to the fight, around what Bridges said or was wearing, saying she was nothing more than a lingerie model and other similar references. But they were missing the point of what Bridges was trying to do and say. Bridges is very business aware, knowing that boxing is an entertainment business as well as a sport. Aware that you need to make the fans care about you, and to get more eyes on women’s boxing, Bridges promoted herself and the fight with this in mind. The most talked-about fight on the whole card was Courtenay vs Bridges. I am all for earning world title fights by way of rankings, but equally, we are in a world of views and clicks, Bridges understood this, and has worked extremely hard getting her name out there. During the initial stages of the pandemic last year, no fighter worked harder promoting herself, interview after interview, you couldn’t miss her on social media.

But Bridges was also trying to say you don’t have to look a certain way to be able to fight, something she feels very strongly about. Why can’t you be yourself, wear what you like, freedom of expression and freedom of choice. Bridges has made her own choices, nobody has told her to do anything, although I have a feeling Bridges does what the hell she pleases, I seriously doubt anyone could tell her what to do:

“I have just proven that you can look like this and wear that and still be able to fight. Up until my fight, they didn’t think I could, and I have just proven that you can. If anybody tries to tell me what to do, they can go and f..k themselves. I don’t have people telling me what to do or how to be. I built me, this is me, and I’ll never change.”

The performance on Saturday was good, but it is not enough for Bridges. If there is any doubt to where her heart lies, the sacrifices she has committed to, should end all doubt. Her life will now just be boxing, family, friends, relationships, career, everything is now on hold. Bridges wants more, she wants everything.

Photo Credit: Matchroom Boxing

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