I’VE GOT a black belt in Kenpo Karate and I did kickboxing and Muay Thai throughout my teens. In terms of boxing, I’d always been into it, but when I reached my teens, that’s when I became a proper boxing fan. At the time Kostya Tszyu was fighting and he was my hero. I even dated a guy with a Kostya Tszyu rat tail because I thought it was really cool! As for boxing training, well, that didn’t happen for a number of years.
I have a Bachelor’s [degree] in mathematics and Master’s in teaching mathematics. I graduated in the top 10 per cent in my class and got a Dean’s Merit in my Master’s degree at Western Sydney Uni.
But I’m not really the expert in languages that many people have been making me out to be. I only actually speak three languages, but every time it gets mentioned in the media people keep adding some! I made a joke recently and said, ‘I speak, English, Australian, Portuguese, Spanish and Westie, which is western Sydney slang.’ Then I did an interview the other day and they asked, ‘You speak seven languages?’ Every time, they add an extra couple… The truth is I speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.
I was lifting weights for about 10 years but I was competing for about seven or eight [years]. It helped my boxing immensely. Bodybuilding is next level hardcore mentality. It instilled this incredible discipline and drive to push beyond my limits physically and mentally. When you’re in pain, you’ve got to keep pushing and find a way to keep going in bodybuilding. I’d be in tears because I’d be pushing my body so hard.
My amateur record was 26-4, I was the two-time Australian Golden Gloves bantamweight champion, and that was all in the space of two years. By the time I was 32, I wanted to turn professional. I wanted to crack people with little gloves and without the headgear, which I hated. I was never interested in the amateurs. It was always about turning professional at some point. Age don’t mean shit. I knew what I wanted to do and wasn’t going to let anybody stop me.
Within two years I was fighting Shannon Courtenay for the vacant WBA title. I got told about the [April 2021] Shannon fight a week before my fight with Carol Earl, so I didn’t really think about it too much because I knew I had to get through Carol first and I’m always focused on the opponent in front of me. I beat Carol and then had so much to sort out in two days as I had to organise everything for the Shannon fight, which was only four weeks later. I flew out straight away for the next three weeks to Philadelphia and then over to the UK.
After [losing a 10-round decision to Courtenay] I stayed in the UK for a couple of weeks and toured around meeting the fans because it was my first time in the UK. I wanted to give back to them for their incredible support. The intention was to then head back to the US but I couldn’t because of the pandemic, so I flew to Mexico for two weeks and trained with former WBC bantamweight champion, “Barbie” [Mariana] Juárez. I then I did my camp for Bec Connolly in Philadelphia, but I couldn’t get back to America after that fight, so I had to stay in the UK. I needed somewhere to train and ended up with my friend Enzo Maccarinelli for the next four weeks for my fight against Mailys Gangloff. My American team came over for the fight, then afterwards I went home with my busted up hand and took part in the TV programme, SAS Australia.
I met Mark Tibbs in the bubble in fight camp when I fought Bec Connolly and he congratulated me on the Shannon Courtenay fight. He didn’t think I’d be in with a chance against Shannon but he was impressed with my style and determination. I really liked his energy and personality and I knew of the Tibbs family and their track record.
Then after the Bec fight I got stuck in the UK so I asked Mark if I could train with him for a couple of days before I headed out to Wales. I went down to the gym and I really liked the whole vibe and loved what Mark was teaching me.
Then, after the Gangloff fight, I came back to England again and asked Mark if I could train with him for a couple of weeks. To get the best out of my career I needed to have somewhere where I could settle in the UK. I didn’t want to be training in three different time zones adjusting to three different countries and altitudes in one camp, especially at the level I was going to be fighting at. In those couple of weeks me and Mark gelled very well and I learnt so much. That’s when I asked if he could train me for the María Román fight.
Because I’m so strong, a lot of trainers kind of get mesmerised by the power and focus on that. They’d always said, keep going forward, be relentless and don’t step back, whereas Mark got me to focus on the jab, using movement and sticking to a gameplan instead of just trying to bundle opponents. He loves the Mexican style of fighting, which I have, but he also knows his boxing and is able to bring the two together. Even though the inside fighting is my bread and butter, there’s always room for improvement and he was able to help with that. What he said all made sense and I trusted him with strategy. In the gym I’d ask him about everything he was teaching, not because I was trying to question him, but because I wanted to fully understand. I need to have that time to question, process and understand what I’m being taught. In the gym I’m learning, but when it comes to the fight I just f**king do it, because I know it works.
I felt good in there [against Román] and thought I was winning. Women’s boxing is fought at a higher pace due to two-minute rounds and Mark wanted me to pace myself and take my time. I didn’t feel I needed to because I felt I could have gone at the pace I started and lasted all night. But that experience of his is invaluable and I didn’t mind that because I was able to show off my boxing, not just my power. I was staying at range more, conserving energy, whereas I would have normally been happy to stand there and pummel the whole fight. Doing what I did under Mark’s instructions proved to me that it was okay to fight that way and still win.
I’ve always believed in myself. It sounds good to have that [IBF] title next to my name.
It would be different if Shannon and I fought again. I think she’d run a lot more after seeing the Román fight. She would avoid being dragged into a fight at any cost to try and outbox me. It wouldn’t matter though because we were prepared for anything for the Román fight and I was ready to cut her down and get her on the ropes and smash the shit out of her if I had to. You only saw a little bit of what me and Mark were working on and I’m confident that the improvements will help me break opponents down.
Shannon is very tough to be fair. I was hitting her with some big shots and she didn’t go down. This time I’d be able to draw Shannon onto shots if I wanted to and brawl if I need to. Bottom line though, I just don’t see any other result other than me winning it.
I would like to fight in America again where I have a lot of fans, but I’ve also got a huge fan base in Mexico – the majority of my followers on social media are from Mexico. The only thing about fighting out there is the altitude so I’d have to go out a while in advance and do a camp out there before fighting. I’d obviously like to fight in the UK again, but I just want to fight where the fans are. Bottom line is I’ll fight anywhere. I just want to be well prepared.
I bust my hand in the Román fight so I’ll be out for a little while, otherwise I’d be fighting again in a month. It’s hard to say, but I’ve got maybe another two years left in the game.
I know I’ve got a lot more support now and I’m looking forward to converting the doubters into fans. You can’t deny me and if you do, you don’t know s**t about boxing.
Interview by Paul Zanon
THE COACH’S VOICE
Mark Tibbs reflects on the night Bridges won her belt
HER best assets as a boxer are her strength, mindset and willingness to learn – her work ethic is up there with Billy Joe Saunders, Dillian Whyte and Frank Buglioni. We had to work on all aspects of her boxing for the Román fight, so moving her feet more, keeping her relaxed and carrying her hands compact as opposed to down by her hips. I also worked on head movement and distance, but I didn’t want to make it too confusing for her because we knew that on the night she would either have to fight on the inside or fight long.
It wasn’t like Ebanie was fighting for a vacant title. She was fighting someone here who had been a long reigning champion. It’s hard to put into words how happy I was that night. The boxing business is very painful and I felt her pain in the weeks building up to the fight. I wanted her to win so badly, just to ease that pain.
I was over the moon for her. Four or five weeks out from fight date it was perfect, but you never know with a fighter if it’s all going to click that well on the night. I was praying it would and it did. She did really, really well. She’s got a massive heart and she’ll do even better next time because it’s all starting to come together nicely. If she was to fight more at long range it actually suits her. She just needs to believe in it a little bit more.
You sure ain’t seen the best of her yet.