Ebanie Bridges is thinking about her image again – but not the way you think. Her left eye is horribly swollen so the model, she jokes, will have to wait.
The Australian bantamweight felt discredited as a gimmick in preparation for last weekend’s fight with Shannon Courtenay, which although she lost can be seen as the moment a new boxing star was born .
“My weigh-in broke the internet,” laughs Bridges three days after failing against Courtenay in a fight that sparked an exciting rivalry in a way women’s boxing hasn’t always seen. By his conclusion, Courtenay became WBA world champion but Bridges’ story is far from over.
Bridges’ decision to weigh in wearing lingerie was her way of “embracing femininity”, but Courtenay argued that it wasn’t how to be “a model.” The only way this side-show could be truly contextualized was by what happened inside the ring, when Bridges fought valiantly to the end despite his grotesquely closed eye.
“I’ve been questioned all the time – ‘someone who looks like that can’t be hard'”, says Bridges Sky Sports.
“The men stopped less than that.
“I’m happy that I was able to show everyone that I am a real fighter, a real fighter.”
His willingness to embrace a playful personality, as well as the glaring lack of footage from his previous five fights, which was an intentional ploy to create surprise, meant that Bridges wasn’t meant to show the kind of heart-wrenching tenacity that was required. when an eye became unusable.
But that instinct for survival did not shock Bridges, whose story of emerging during a traumatic adolescent period has taught him resilience.
“I’ve been practicing martial arts since I was five,” she says. “When I was eight, I planked my two front knuckles, holding them until I cried and wanted to quit, but was told not to. I was kicked while I was in a plank position.
“During my teenage years, I went to hell and came back. I was lucky to survive.
“Strength training changes you more than you can imagine. Discipline and push through fatigue to build muscle. I would cry during practice sessions but I would never stop.
“When you stop, you don’t reach. Pain is temporary, pride is eternal.”
In Bridges’ professional boxing debut just two years ago, she broke her ankle in the first round but still won the fight – “I was dragging my foot behind me,” she says. Maybe we should have seen his will come.
“I know how much I have a heart,” she said. “Never in a fight, never in life, I never gave up. So that didn’t shock me at all.”
The unfortunate moment when Bridges was forced to face a crisis came before the last round. The swelling around her eye, caused by an accidental banging of heads, she insisted, had now temporarily blinded her. She told her corner team that she couldn’t see and that she was brave to keep going.
Her thoughts at this point, she explains, “I thought, ‘I hope the doctor doesn’t ask me if I can see.’
“No way I would have said no. I would have said, ‘Of course I can see! “
“No way I stopped. I would have fought without eyes.
“The doctor was looking at me and I was just praying, ‘Please don’t ask me.’
“I only told my coaches so they could understand why I couldn’t see his right hand.”
There was mutual respect after the bloody battle Courtenay won by unanimous decision to win the WBA belt.
“The first thing she said was, ‘I really underestimated you,’” says Bridges. “And I underestimated her a bit too. But I immediately gained his respect.
“She raised my hand at the end because she recognized the warrior spirit – I appreciate her for that.
“We respect each other because we put on one of the best women’s fights that people have seen.”
So, next time around, should we expect to see Bridges “carrying a trash bag” as she joked to appease the critics?
“I won’t change for anyone,” she said. “It’s important to be you, to be real. Don’t judge each other.
“I could have softened it, not kicked out. I could have changed to please the purists. But my goal was bigger – it was to have more eyes on the sport, more people tuning in to watch me fight.
“I know my style is fan-friendly and if you didn’t like women’s boxing before you would like it after seeing me.
“I am proof that you can be feminine and fight even harder than a man.
“I was confident and that’s why I didn’t change. I told you everything – you would see exactly how serious I was when I jumped in the ring.”
Bridges’ next decision is undecided, but there are no plans to return home to Australia yet and she is hoping to return to the ring in June. Schoolchildren she teaches math will only see her through Zoom. Boxing is, if you hadn’t realized it yet, not a gadget for it.
“You don’t see anything I do in women’s boxing. I’m different,” she said.
“I’m not Katie Taylor. And I don’t want to be like other people. I want respect for who I am, and that’s why I refused to change. I refused to listen to people who me. ‘said I was disrespectful.
“I brought more eyes to my fight than ever – that’s how much I respect my sport.
“The heart that I had? It shows how much I respect boxing.
“I have done the sport justice for making people watch. They will want to watch me again.”