Ebanie Bridges: “You never get anything in life if you stand still waiting for something to happen.”
At the height of the first UK lockdown was when I first spoke to Ebanie Bridges. The Australian was in the middle of her quest to get her name out there, entering the often poisonous world of Twitter can be daunting for anyone, but Bridges embraced it and attacked it with full force. Twitter had a purpose.
To be seen you have to be heard, Bridges understood the importance of building a brand, and without a fight insight because of the global pandemic, Bridges took on another fight. It took time, a never-ending round of interviews, answering the same questions over and over with as much enthusiasm as anyone could reasonably be expected to do with the unrelenting repetition. But it was necessary to achieve the end goal.
Despite my initial interview with Bridges being of standard enough length, I had to split the interview into two parts. If talking earned you a world title Bridges would be already the greatest ever. It wasn’t only the amount of words that she spoke it was the importance of them, the following paragraph came from that very first interview:
“I have changed my life around, I had a second chance at life. I chose to turn my life around with the help of my family and to make the most of every minute. I’m thirsty for learning because I know I wasted a fraction of my life that I know I won’t get back. Until I am dead I am going to make the most of every single minute. I want to inspire people and teach people who were in the situation I was and be a role model.“
I have never forgotten those words and the paragraph says plenty, it hints at the troubled past and the years lost in the wilderness as a result and highlights what drives her to be the person she is today. I think that one solitary paragraph is so important, it allows you to understand Bridges and the inner force that drives her on.
The last time I saw Bridges was in Worksop a small insignificant town in Nottinghamshire. On a cold bitterly cold night Bridges was fighting the effects of the temperatures, her body still acclimatising to the great British weather, the long day of another date on her UK tour and no doubt the rather mundane conversation she had to endure. It was just over a week out from that bruising but losing battle for the world bantamweight title with Shannon Courtenay. The scars of battle were still visible, but you sensed that she was already making plans for what lies ahead. Courtenay wasn’t the end of the journey, just the beginning.
A couple of weeks later, England still freezes, but Bridges has moved on. The UK tour has now morphed into a world tour. The Zoom call picture is crystal clear despite the Australian now being in Mexico. Bridges is a long-time admirer of the Mexican style of fighting, and she is there to train alongside one of her idols Mariana Juarez for the next few weeks, an experience she describes as a once in a lifetime opportunity:
“I couldn’t go back to America straight from the UK so I thought I would make the most of it and spend two weeks training with her in Mexico. So I spoke to Mariana to see if she can accommodate me and she could.”
Bridges never stops working, despite its obvious progress and then some over the past 12 months or so on her profile, she doesn’t rest on her laurels in that department. But the ring education goes on, and despite feeling ill from a combination of jet lag and suspected altitude sickness, Bridges is in Mexico for a reason and she still rose early and wearily but with enthusiasm for her craft:
“I flew in late Sunday morning, and we got up early Monday morning and we sparred. I haven’t really sparred since my fight other than doing a few rounds with Joe Cordina. Joe was making it practically impossible for me to hit him, so it wasn’t like Mexican toe-to-toe sparring, so I’ve been thrown right into the deep end. With how I am feeling right now, don’t get me wrong it’s hard especially with how my lungs are, but I am pushing through. It’s just a lot harder than what it would normally be. I go back to Philadelphia after the two weeks in Mexico because I am looking to fight in the summer, not sure where as yet.”
Where Bridges fights next isn’t yet decided, and who she will fight is also up in the air. Bec Connolly is one name that has been doing the rounds in the social media world of matchmaking, but despite having admiration for Connolly, the fight is unlikely to happen. Bridges is looking at an opponent that will advance her up the world rankings to push her claim further for another world title challenge:
“I want to keep climbing and keep getting better. I just need an opponent with a good winning record that will help me in the rankings. But it’s up to my management and promoter to decide who I fight next.”
Bridges proved a lot of doubters wrong in her fight with Courtenay, and the clamour is to run it back or fight Rachel Ball, if she beats Courtenay again when they rematch later this year. While things can change in boxing with fighters pulling out at short notice, Bridges is looking at two fights before she fights again for a world title:
“I think one fight and then a title fight, something like an International or a Commonwealth title and then hopefully then the rematch with Shannon or the fight with Rachel.”
In her search for glory, Bridges has left her native land and her job as a maths teacher in pursuit of her dreams. With no regular income Bridges like any fighter needs sponsors to do what they love. Having built up her profile and brand, all the hard work in doing that is now reaping its benefits. Bridges has attracted a new sponsor in Goodwin Racing, a family-run bookmakers:
“Goodwin Racing has come on board as a major sponsor and they have helped me out loads already. For me, it’s pretty cool because I love going to the races and throwing down the odd sneaky bet. They are only a small business and they have a good family vibe. I’ve done a video call with all the office staff and they know me, they are all big fans. So it is really cool that you have someone who really believes in you. I wouldn’t be here without my sponsors. I’ve still got my sponsors from Australia but Goodwin Racing are from the UK, they are really onboard and want to help wherever they can.
“It’s such a huge help, you have to remember I haven’t worked since February. I am travelling around, you get paid for a fight but 50% goes to other people. I am going around different countries, five weeks in the UK, two weeks in Mexico, then I am going to Philly for eight weeks and I am not working. My purse for the fight won’t cover all that.”
With a family and boyfriend left behind in Australia the sacrifices have been huge and hard, a situation made even harder by the travel restrictions of the ongoing pandemic:
“In Mexico, the gym is just upstairs to where I am living so I don’t really leave the house accept to get food. In the UK I was jetting around meeting people doing things. I haven’t seen my boyfriend since March, it’s hard it’s really hard. It’s kind of selfish to expect someone to wait around for months and months. I have a fight in the summer then I’ll probably have another one, so do I even go home at all. Is it worth going home to sit in a quarantined hotel for two weeks, sit in that room doing nothing and then get to spend only a week with my boyfriend before I have to leave again, and it costs so much to go home. It’s like 13k with the flights and paying for the quarantine.”
The weeks spent in the UK after her fight with Courtenay were split between a base in Wales and one in Worksop staying with her friend and fellow boxer Nicola Hopewell. The pictures on social media during her UK stay says plenty about Bridges. A fighter who is always generous with her time and someone who clearly enjoys what she is doing. The level of recognition she has in Australia is low in comparison to her profile in the UK. Free hotel upgrades, an appearance on Soccer AM, daily visits to local gyms, even a guided tour of a certain football ground in Leeds. Bridges was in her element and an experience she will long remember:
“It was surreal, it was unreal a lot of the time I felt like a bit of a celebrity, getting stopped for photos and stuff. It doesn’t matter where I was someone would recognise me. I had Nicola with me, she was so good when we were travelling around, I miss her.”
What stood out for me was how happy she was when she was spending time with the kids and how happy it made her. I was surprised when another boxer told me how widespread bullying was in schools, and with Bridges being a maths teacher she is also very much aware of how big the problem is and something she is really passionate about:
“There is a reason why I am a teacher. I think it is very important to influence youth because they are our future. The kids are very impressionable and the little things you say can make a big difference, especially with how things are these days with bullying. That’s why I push the be strong, be you mantle, because they get bullied for just being themselves. They are too skinny, too fat, too loud, too quiet. The bullies don’t realise the psychological effect they have on people, they need to understand what they are doing or realise just how bad it can get. So when I see the kids I like to try and inspire them and give a little bit back. Either take a few photos with them or say a few words. I like to have a conversation with them, ask them their names and give them a chance to tell me a little bit about them and get to know them. That’s just giving the kids a bit of time and hopefully, it gives them a bit of confidence. It only takes a second and you can learn something from anyone.”
One of the stops on her UK tour was a visit to see Rachel Ball, a friend but potential rival down the line. Bridges was scheduled to meet last year for the world title before the Australian injured her shoulder resulting in the fight being cancelled. Some may find it hard to understand that potential rivals could still be friends, but for Bridges, fighting is just work, friendship can still be formed even with rivals:
“I like Rachel she is is my mate. We can go in a ring and try to kill one another, but we can still be mates.”
The pandemic has stopped many things and even though boxing has been up and running since around July time of last year, dates and therefore opportunities are scarce. Many fighters are simply not getting fights at the moment with only the bigger promoters with TV deals able to put shows on with the rising costs attributed to the Covid restrictions. Bridges has got herself seen and heard, but not everyone can do what she has done:
“It’s not an easy market to crash. So all I can say is keep pushing your brand. Don’t slack off, the main thing is to get noticed. Some are trying to do it the wrong way, trying to put others down that is not the right way to go about it. I think it is important to focus on yourself. It depends who you are, I can say go and push yourself, but if you are someone who has nothing, what are you going to push. Not everyone has something to sell. You never get anything in life if you stand still waiting for something to happen.”
Bridges is one of the few, even without the proper connections she knew how to connect with the fans, build a profile and get the rewards from all the hard work that led up to it. But it is not without sacrifice, the pain of leaving behind what she has in Australia is obvious. But for what she craves it is something she has to do. To achieve the success she desires in boxing, Bridges has to move base, staying home will only get her so far. She needs more.
No matter how painful the personal sacrifices are, Bridges doesn’t want any regrets. What drives her forward you probably have to go back to my first interview with her. The comments she made around not wasting a single minute in life, being given a second chance in life and wanting to inspire people tells you everything you need to know. The scars of another time fuel the ambitions of today.
In boxing you have to be all in, you have to be taken out of your comfort zone, Bridges is leaving nothing to chance. Being in Mexico for a few weeks is the perfect next step on the road to that dream of a world title. Coming this far isn’t enough, the Bridges story is a long way from being finished.