Ebanie Bridges: World Champion

Ebanie Bridges: World Champion

“I’m so proud of myself,” Ebanie Bridges said after she defied many things in beating Maria Cecilia Roman to claim the IBF world bantamweight title on Saturday night in Leeds. And so she should be. There is almost certainly much satisfaction in proving her many doubters wrong, sticking two fingers up to some of the faceless Twitter trolls will do that.

There were those who didn’t get what she was trying to do. Some didn’t want to understand, their own preconceived prejudices greatly restricting what they could see. Trying to dictate what Bridges could say or wear, was never going to make Bridges change her path. There was resentment all around, Bridges just got on with changing her life.

The criticism, resentment and much more almost certainly hardened the way the Australian went about her mission. But in saying that, Bridges now has something much more important. Inner peace is hard to find, Bridges now has that. She will always be in the records books as a world champion. That can never be taken away from her.

The life which at one time was heading to oblivion has now been changed forever. We can all learn plenty from Bridges. The social media blitz to get her name out was just the start of the process. Bridges got herself through the door, and the feeling at the time from the ever-critical boxing fraternity was that she wouldn’t stay long. Shannon Courtenay was expected to knock Bridges back into reality. She didn’t, and Bridges had got what she wanted. Well, almost.

That was never going to be enough for someone who, despite now being a world champion, will probably already have many more goals already set in stone in that overly active mind of hers.

Bridges made reference post-fight asking the Leeds faithful if she could fight or what. She has in truth, been fighting her whole life. What she proved on Saturday to the lingering doubters, was that she can actually box, and at the highest level in the sport. Roman was respected, not a faded fighter, the Bridges win and the performance deserves the plaudits. Make no mistake, it is a world title with real meaning and value. She won in a manner that will satisfy her, and it was won beyond doubt.

Despite the hard layer you see on the outside, there is a sensitive side to the new IBF world champion. Even she would have had doubts, and that drive to prove something to herself would give her a little extra piece of personal satisfaction as her Saturday night extended into the early hours. She deserves her moment.

There are many layers to Bridges. She likes to give back, adding a little personal touch to any photograph hunters. Bridges likes to engage with her fans, and she seems at her happiest in those moments. It makes the fans’ day in that brief interaction, but I suspect Bridges gets just as much out of those fleeting moments.

There is an understanding of the importance of marketing yourself but equally that interaction is just as important. Bridges knows that boxing is an entertainment business, you need to put bums on seats. If nobody knows you, a fighter will soon get lost in the mix. I do wonder how many other careers have stalled beyond repair as certain fighters spend their day resenting what Bridges has done instead of learning from it. You have to make your own path in life, Bridges did, and others should look and learn from what she has done. Nothing is given in life, nothing comes to you, you have to go and get it.

Boxing is a tough unforgiving sport, but there are moments that genuinely touch the heart of even the most hardened souls. The two fighters with who I am perhaps most emotionally invested, are Bridges and Natasha Jonas. I make no apologies for such words, they are the fighters I speak to the most and you can’t help but get invested in their stories and their struggles. The more you interview a fighter the more you start caring about them as a person. There was another fight at the weekend where I could only sit and admire the sheer majestic brilliance of the winner but at the same time worry about what lies ahead for the loser. Another story for another day.

There have been many words said in private to Bridges and Jonas, and you get to appreciate what winning a world title means to them. The stories may differ, but the end goals are the same.

Jonas had her moment in Manchester last month in Manchester, now Bridges has hers. Both have overcome many things in their lives, and I have been privileged to be a small part of that journey. Their defining nights were special, tears of joy after the tears of heartbreak, a savage sport can give you such moments. Nights that will be hard to top.

The big heart isn’t exclusive to the ring. The unseen support for her friends, helping push other fighters. Bridges is loyal to the core. She hasn’t forgotten who was there right at the start.

It was at times about the search for acceptance, Bridges has now convinced many of her right to be where she is. The methods and Bridges herself are a breath of fresh air in a sport that struggles to find and accept something a little different. There are many fighters in recent years who have helped women’s boxing get accepted into the mainstream of a sport that was reluctant to give it its relevance. Bridges is one of those fighters.

In many ways, she was born for the big stage. Bridges was in her element on Saturday night. Some fighters diminish under the glare of the bright lights. The Australian just embraces everything about the whole process. As she says, “I was born for this shit.”

Like some kind of pugilistic chess player Bridges will know many moves in advance of what she wants her life to look like in a few year’s time. As I have said previously, Bridges will always want more. When one summit is reached there is always another mountain to climb.

The success hasn’t come without sacrifice and pain. She has given up one life to start another. But if you want something badly enough you can’t be half in. As Bridges said herself on Twitter this morning:

“I set a goal when I turned pro, I want to be a world champion. I grafted in EVERY area of my life that was needed to make this dream come true. I sacrificed SO MUCH. Cried so much. But NEVER stopped believing.”

People have said Bridges has had it easy. The truth is nothing has ever come easy for her. With coming late to the sport and without an extensive amateur background Bridges has had to work harder than most to reach this level so quickly. On experience alone, she had no business beating Roman, the fact that she did and so well, says everything as to just how far she has come.

Ever the perfectionist, Bridges will analyse the fight over and over and look for ways to improve even further. She can be better and she will be better. The maths teacher will do her own homework and look to take her skills to another level. The work never stops for someone who never stops.

Bridges with that larger than life personality takes over every room she is in. When the boxing career ends, it will serve her well. A life saved, a life changed, it has been some story that still has many more chapters to write.

At the start of her campaign to get her name out by her relentless grind of non-stop interviews at all hours of the day, I was tagged in on Twitter with a suggestion to interview Bridges. It was at the start of the worldwide lockdown, I had already come across her, in truth, I couldn’t miss her. I replied back saying: “She’s on my wishlist.”

Almost immediately she replied back saying: “No more wishing, let’s get it done.” On Saturday night, Ebanie Bridges took her own advice and got it done.

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