All the talk of underwear has done Eddie Hearn a favour when it has come to promoting Saturday night’s fight between Ebanie Bridges and Shannon Courtenay. The British boxer has been angered by Bridges’s decision to play up a sexy image. But if anyone had been disrespecting boxing, it has not been the Australian, it has been the WBA for sanctioning the fight for their world title.
It almost seems a joke to criticize the WBA for lowering its standards. After all, they have been doing it for years. But women’s boxing has been battling for respect for years and by declaring the winner of Saturday’s fight in London a world champion, the WBA are not even pretending to show that they care about quality.
The problem is not about Bridges’s image, the problem is that the pair are novices, having had just 12 professional bouts between them. Claressa Shields and Nicola Adams boxed for world titles in their fourth and sixth fights respectively, but they were double Olympic champions – Bridges and Courtenay’s amateur achievements can’t compare.
Neither can it be claimed that this fight is an indictment of the lack of depth in female boxing. That may be the case up the weight divisions, but there is no shortage of decent bantamweights. When this fight was announced, Bridges was in the WBA rankings at No 9. She was not even the top-ranked Australian, that honour going to Shannon O’Connell, who, in true WBA fashion, competed for that organization’s “gold” title last month. Courtenay wasn’t ranked at all.
If boxing worked properly, the vacant belt would have been contested by the WBA’s top two contenders, which in February was Maureen Shea, of the United States, and Mexico’s Zulina Munoz. But the source of this fight seems to have been that Hearn got first dibs on the belt.
He had originally asked the WBA to sanction a fight for the vacant title between Bridges (who at that point had only had four fights) and Rachel Ball, winner over Courtenay last summer. Bridges was injured in training, though, and was replaced by the seemingly much more qualified former IBF super-flyweight champion Jorgelina Guanini. However, the Argentinian massively missed the weight, so that fight ended up taking place for the interim WBC super-bantamweight title.
Hearn then tried to remake Ball-Bridges for the same WBA title, and when Ball went down with COVID, in stepped Courtenay, who was promptly shoved into their rankings at No 8, one place above Bridges.
On their records, it is a pretty even fight, but for a world title? Surely not. Titles, after all, lose their value if everyone has one. And what is the value of being rated 1-7 by the WBA if you can be pushed aside by those below you.
Hearn suggested the fight would have been better if they had had “one more fight” each. What they needed to do was to beat a worthwhile contender. Both boxers have only beaten one opponent with more wins than defeats on their record, which in the case of Bridges was in her debut when she beat an opponent with a 2-1 record via a majority decision over three rounds. That opponent has lost her only subsequent fight. None of her other opponents have actually boxed since losing to Bridges. Only one of Courtenay’s victims has won a bout since losing to her.
No surprise then that the talk has not been about boxing, much to Courtenay’s annoyance.
“I look at people like Katie Taylor who done everything they have to raise the bar to allow women like me to fight for a living and I don’t like it being disrespected by talking not about the boxing but what people are going to wear at a weigh-in,” she said.
“I want people to talk about a fight. Could you imagine Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard discussing at a press conference what they are going to wear at a weigh-in?”
Bridges has obvious reason to be grateful to her image for helping her jump the queue to a title shot, pointing out that, with a promoter, it was down to her to promote herself.
“It’s an entertainment business,” she said. “It’s not about sexualizing it, it is about showing femininity in a male-dominated sport. There is a diversity of women, we are not all the same. Women should engage their characters and inner personalities a bit more and enjoy the ride. You can be this way and box well and win world titles.”
Not that either are expecting things to be too pretty in the ring. Bridges promised that is she was unable to knock Courtenay out, the British boxer would end up with a face “like a dropped pie”.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.