Ebanie Bridges: “Fighting the longest reigning champion in my weight division, now that excites me. Winning that fight will be serious satisfaction. I really do believe I have what it takes to beat Roman.”
Boxing has given Ebanie Bridges so many opportunities in life. In many ways, it has saved her and made her in equal measure. Not long after her last fight in Leeds late last year, Bridges went back home to Australia to compete on the Australian version of SAS. It was an opportunity that could have happened last year Bridges told me over Zoom:
“I was supposed to do it when the Shannon Courtenay fight was on. I had the contract signed and everything but I had to say no because of the world title fight. But they kept chasing me and I said yes and I thought why not challenge myself.”
The notoriously unforgiving sample of a SAS course has broken many a contestant on the various incarnations of the show. But with the background Bridges has, she was unlikely to be found wanting. Her life has been incredibly hard at times, but she is far more than just a born survivor. The Australian cites her bodybuilding days as perhaps the hardest thing she has ever done. But anyone watching her time on SAS will witness a different side to Bridges. The strive for perfection was hard on the mind more so than the body. There were tears but also her patented resilience:
“I went through hell and back when I was bodybuilding. It was hard on SAS but not as hard as in my bodybuilding days, the hardest thing was in the first couple of days when I wasn’t doing things right and not being able to rectify my failure. You only get one chance at a task, if you mess up that’s it you’re done. That bothered me, it’s not like I don’t like failure, if I fail at something as long as I learn something from it and next time I will be better. But in the show that wasn’t an option and that was really bothering me. And because I was away and I had no phone, no distractions or anything, I only had my own thoughts in my head 24/7 and it started to really get to me. It kept happening, me not doing everything perfectly. The third episode is where I break down and they say why are you so hard on yourself. But I am hard on myself. I want to be the best I can be. The other guys on the show were saying you did it, you are still here. But I knew I would still be here, for me just being there wasn’t good enough. When I am doing something I want to make sure I am doing it right and doing it the best that I can. I think I am a bit like that in life, nothing is ever good enough, I am never satisfied.”
Removing all the now too readily accepted home comforts, the third hand of a mobile phone and life’s many other distractions, can strip you bare and leave you mentally exposed, the type of experience where you learn plenty about yourself. Bridges learned much from her time on the show:
“I already knew I was really hard on myself with certain things, the whole perfection thing. But in the real world, I would probably find a distraction instead of dealing with it and learning how to be ok with not being perfect. It was like a bit of a wake-up call not to dwell on things. I do it all the time in training and sparring. If I have had a bad spar, or if I do twenty things right and one thing wrong, I will dwell on the one negative. I want to be perfect and if I am not it bothers me. It’s not self-doubt I just want to be the best and I hate it when I mess up.”
The opportunity to appear on the popular worldwide show was formed out of her relentless grind over the last few years to get her name out there. The hard work is now getting its rightful rewards. When I spoke to Hannah Baggaley who is treading a similar path to Bridges, she told me that self-promotion on social media can be a full-time job in itself. After more than a full day of work and then training, the social media aspects can be the last thing a fighter wants to do. But Bridges is at a stage where she is able to find the life and work balance she needs:
“I’m lucky now because I have done all the hard work to get where I am and I am at the stage now where I can take a step back from social media if I need to because I have built that brand already. I just have to maintain it, Hannah is at that point where I was a year ago where you have to keep pushing it. But in saying that I have to keep doing it I can’t just let it go. I don’t feel like doing it all the time, but I don’t feel like running every day either. It’s part of the sport it is what I have to do. It’s doing something the others aren’t doing and it clearly works. You need to do these things, if you want to go further and get more exposure then that is what you have to do.
“I have put so much work in the last few years that I am able to do that. I need my own time and space. I am at a level now where I can’t use all my energy on social media. I need to save my energy and pick and choose who I speak to because I have put in all the hard yards I can now have the option of doing that. Before I didn’t have that option I had to do everything I could to get my name out. When I was in Australia I had to stay up while 5am to do interviews to get my brand to where it is now.”
Those that like to heavily critique and troll don’t realise or seemingly want to accept all the hard work and sacrifices Bridges has made in pursuit of what she craves. A life left behind, a required sacrifice for success in a sport that makes you give everything and a little bit more:
“The sacrifices are huge. I have literally given up my life in Australia and everyone there. I have had to do that because it is the best thing for me and my career. I’m not about to stop now if this is what I need to keep moving forward. People have no idea what I have sacrificed and they don’t want to believe. They just want to think it was easy or I was lucky because of the looks. That’s why they can’t get it and they want to put it down to something else.”
But the work has paid off, the sacrifices made are now bearing the fruit of her labour. I remember a time when Bridges was struggling to even pay for the repairs her car of the time badly needed. Long days without the initial reward, building for the future. Bridges never forgets where she has come from and how much her life has changed:
“My whole life has changed completely in the last year. I was working full-time, getting up at 4am to go training. Then I was teaching all day and then driving to the gym after work. Then I went home cooking for my boyfriend and myself, prepping for my school work and then getting up and doing it all over again. Even before that, I had to pay 4k for my opponents because there was nobody to fight in Australia so we had to bring in people from overseas. And because of where Australia is you have to pay out for three flights here, three flights back, their accommodation, their visas and registrations, all this stuff just to come and fight you. I only had enough money to put food on the table and drive to work and the gym I didn’t have spare money for anything else. I have had to invest all my money and time to even get close to this.”
People often fail to see the other side of Bridges. The passion for her sport defines her, there is far more to her than the obvious narrative some want to push. There are many layers to the Ebanie Bridges story and the person behind it. Her time in boxing has been short but her advance has been rapid. The breakthrough performance against Shannon Courtenay early last year convinced many Bridges was for real. But the work really began soon after in the quest for more. The arrival and the seat at the Matchroom table were secured in the short term, but for Bridges, it was unlikely to be enough just to be in the room. With trips to America to train and now firmly settled in the UK, at least for now, Bridges can see her improvements in the ring since the Courtenay fight:
“I’m a lot more patient, lighter on my feet, and obviously I have learnt a lot more. After every fight, every training session I get better. I’m still learning on the job now, you never stop learning. But like I said with every fight, every training session I get better and better. My fight IQ is getting better, I am getting more experience, I have only been boxing for five years, and in that time there was my broken ankle and Covid. I am a grafter and that’s why I am where I am in such a short space of time I am just so obsessed with it.”
I’m not sure Bridges will settle for anything in life, there will always be some new challenge to strive for, but the base is now Essex and learning under the expert tutelage of Mark Tibbs. The partnership is thriving, Bridges pushes buttons and demands plenty, everything even, from those around her, in Tibbs, she appears to have found common ground:
“I’m with Mark Tibbs now, I am getting such great sparring, Lauren Parker is just amazing. She’s such a diamond and such a great fighter. There are some really good skilled girls, they are tough and so fast. It just gets my eye in and it is just so good getting that type of sparring in. I like Mark and what he teaches, I like his boxing brain, his tactics, he is a great guy and the gym is full of great people. I like the environment and there is great knowledge with his dad Jimmy. It’s a good set-up, it’s very organised and Mark is very passionate as well, he’s 24/7 with me. We are constantly communicating with each other. It’s easier to train with someone like that, someone who is very driven because they inspire you.”
On Saturday night in her adopted city of Leeds, Bridges gets a second opportunity to crown herself as a world champion. The long-reigning IBF world bantamweight champion Cecilia Roman has been tempted to Yorkshire to defend her crown. Long before the fight was formally announced Bridges told me this was the fight she wanted. You sense that it is not just about winning any title, but more about the challenge of defeating Roman who has been the IBF champion since 2017. But equally, she wants to do it in the manner that satisfies her:
“I really like her style, she has a typical South American style, the style I like to watch and fight. I just thought this will be a fun fight. I want to have good fights, fights that are exciting and ones that the fans will enjoy. I think it will be a fight like that, I think it will be better than me and Shannon.”
Bridges has that rare quality. The desire, the ambition and the work ethic to make things happen for her, and make no mistake, she is here because of her. Bridges has made herself, built everything from the ground up. Risks have been taken, many lying in wait for the inevitable fall that hasn’t yet arrived in her boxing career. Even in defeat to Courtenay, she came out a winner. Fighting Roman is another risk, there were far easier routes she could have taken, even her critics should give her that.
“I’ve lost that many times in life, failed that many times losing a fight won’t kill me. I don’t just want to have easy fights where I just pummel someone who wasn’t in my class that’s not want I want to do. Fighting people who are not on my level and just banging them out just doesn’t satisfy me. Fighting the longest reigning champion in my weight division, now that excites me. Winning that fight will be serious satisfaction. I really do believe I have what it takes to beat Roman, but I know I have to come in that ring at 100% to beat her.”
Bridges is probably happiest when she is teaching, inspiring others and just giving back. Life after boxing will be just that. But Bridges is a born fighter, formed out of the hard times in her teenage years. Trust me, her story could have gone in another direction. Those tough times have made Bridges the person she is today. The fighter she is today. The fight on Saturday night is just another day at the office for her, of course, it means plenty, probably everything. But the ring is her place of comfort, the solitude her active mind needs. The big occasion won’t suffocate her, it will enhance what she brings. That could be the difference. With a win, her life changes again.
Viewers of her time on SAS will have seen her adapt and learn to live and thrive in her new environment. The story of her boxing career has followed a similar pattern. Don’t be fooled by what some will try and tell you, Bridges can fight, and she belongs at world level. The nature of her sport by design has taken a fighter with just 8 fights to her second world title shot. But equally, and probably more crucially, it is the nature of Bridges herself that is a bigger reason why she is where she is.
Roman comes with real credentials and needs to be respected, but she might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bridges looks ready for the challenge, by far her toughest test so far in her young career, and she carries a feeling that she knows something we don’t. Boxing is about timing, having the right fight at the right time. This could be one of those nights.