The pandemic played havoc with both women’s Matchroom bouts this past Saturday at Wembley Arena in London when the opponents originally slated to face off against Shannon Courtenay and reigning and defending WBO world middleweight champion Savannah Marshall were both eliminated from title contention by the virus.
Marshall’s scheduled foe, Femke Hermans, was forced to withdraw from their bout when her coach tested positive a mere five days away from fight night. This is a familiar refrain for Savannah, who was made to wait two weeks to batter Hannah Rankin into submission and claim her first world title last October when Rankin’s trainer Peter Fury likewise came down with Covid just before the initially contracted date.
With scarcely more than 96 hours until bell time, a formidable substitute materialized when Maria Lindberg answered Eddie Hearn’s call. The 44-year-old Swede had not fought previously since December 2019 when she threw a shutout against Mariam Tatunashvili, who was half Lindberg’s age and had won only four of her 19 prior bouts. But, ten of Lindberg’s nineteen victories occurred inside the distance and she had never been stopped or even knocked down in twenty-eight total fights to that point.
Maria won a trio of secondary world title belts (WIBF, WIBA, and GBU at super-welterweight) early in her career, but came up short in legitimate world championship bids against Christina Hammer (twice), Ewa Piatkowska, Marie Eve Dicaire, and Ema Kozin. Would the sixth time be the charm? Not if Savannah Marshall had anything to say about it. The modus operandi of ‘The Silent Assassin’ is to let her fists do the talking and, true to form, they had a lot to say.
Marshall, in a manner that was almost chillingly casual, flicked her long left jab in Lindberg’s face from the outset, establishing a comfortable perimeter that she guarded with an effortless grace while setting up an opportunity to let the right hand of doom do its inevitable damage. She began the process of breaking Lindberg down by following the jab with short, chopping uppercuts and looping overhand rights. The first impactful punch came within the first thirty seconds of round two when Savannah got Lindberg’s attention with a straight right. Jogging after the retreating Lindberg while displaying no sense of urgency whatsoever, Marshall incorporated lefthanded body shots into her attack with the intention of keeping her opponent within easy striking distance. This paid off less than one minute later when a right hook screamed past Lindberg’s lowered defenses and put the Swedish challenger on the deck for the first time in her eighteen-year career. It wouldn’t be the last.
Rather than rush in for the kill with only moments remaining in the frame, Savannah stayed calm, cool, and collected with the knowledge that the end was nigh. This truth was also evident to Lindberg, who was betrayed by her body language at the beginning of round three as she visibly grimaced, forced to abandon her typically aggressive technique and fight off the backfoot with blood streaming from her nose.
Marshall literally boxed circles around the befuddled Lindberg, throwing lead lefts in the form of body blows and uppercuts as well as a succession of one/two combinations. Following a break initiated by referee Bob Williams, Savannah took command of a brief exchange by unleashing a compact right hook which deposited Lindberg onto the seat of her pants. From this position, Maria shook her head and waved her left glove in a dismissive signal of surrender at Williams just as he reached the count of seven.
No sooner had Savannah dispatched Maria Lindberg than she was asked to once more address the topic of an impending rematch against her amateur arch nemesis to consolidate the middleweight championship. “I punch too hard for Claressa Shields, and she doesn’t want to know,” said a supremely confident Marshall. “She‘d much rather roll around in the octagon or call out Katie Taylor who’s four weights below her.”
Naturally, Shields took to her various social media platforms almost immediately to offer sarcastic congratulations to Savannah, and was quick to remind everyone yet again of how Marshall “can’t fuck with me” and is “living off that one win.” That “one win”, which has obviously followed Shields around for the last nine years like the proverbial albatross, refers of course to when Savannah defeated Shields at the 2012 World Championships. Shields, who has just two knockouts among eleven professional wins, questioned the nature of Savannah’s displays of power and mocked her level of opposition in comparison to her own.
Claressa offered her hot take on Marshall which was that Savannah is “slow” and “weak”, benefits from a “padded record”, and possesses a world title only because she vacated it first. Shields believes that the actual super-fight is a 168-pound unification versus her former Team USA comrade and personal friend Franchon Crews, who has gone undefeated and won the WBO super-middleweight title since losing to Claressa in what was the pro debut for both women. However, under the guise of reclaiming her WBO belt, as well as the “W” she is adamant Marshall stole from her nine years ago and yet paradoxically carries no significance, Shields is urging Eddie Hearn to pay her asking price so that she and Savannah Marshall can “give the fans what they want.”
Saturday’s contest to decide the new WBA bantamweight world champion was supposed to have been a rematch between Shannon Courtenay and Rachel Ball. The decision in their Matchroom Summer Camp dustup last August went to the underdog Ball who put Shannon down with a check hook in the first round which helped Rachel edge out a narrow win. Unfortunately, the only bout that Ball would be fighting this spring would be one with Covid-19 which knocked her out of the title fight. As for Courtenay, she took her first defeat in stride and came back four months later to floor Poland’s Dorota Norek en route to a seventh-round TKO on the Billy Joe Saunders vs. Martin Murray undercard.
Many skeptics voiced their discontent with the logic behind allowing a vacant title to be fought over by Courtenay and Bridges, who went into Saturday with a grand total of twelve bouts between them, boasted only a single victory apiece against an opponent with a winning record, and occupied the 8th and 9th spots in the WBA rankings, respectively.
It would be well within reason to suggest that a more suitable option would have been to play fair and put second-ranked Maureen Shea (‘The Real Million Dollar Baby’ is riding a seventeen-fight, 11-year unbeaten streak—a few lengthy layoffs in between notwithstanding) up against former world title challenger ‘Shotgun’ Shannon O’Connell, who has scrapped her way back into number one contention by virtue of six straight victories, the last of which was a split decision win over tenth-rated Cherneka Johnson on March 13, the same night Bridges was taken the full distance by 45-year-old fellow Aussie Carol Earl at Condell Park. Nevertheless, Ebanie was given permission to jump the line and replace Rachel Ball, stating unapologetically, “You’re a fucking idiot if you get offered a world title fight and you say no.” So, there you have it.
Referring to herself as ‘The Blonde Bomber,’ Ebanie Bridges is a 34-year-old high school math teacher with a background in karate, Muay Thai, and bodybuilding who is trigger-happy when it comes to letting the expletives fly during interviews and press conferences, and is in no way timid about flaunting her amply-proportioned figure at weigh-ins or all over social media. A natural super-flyweight, Bridges campaigns at bantamweight strictly due to the two and a half additional pounds of silicone that inflate what she playfully refers to as her “airbags.”
Without question, Ebanie Bridges’ freewheeling attitude and massive popularity help put eyeballs on women’s boxing that may not otherwise be there, but it is a fair question to wonder whether the type of lustful, leering glares she attracts helps the cause or hinders its progress. A random sampling of the degeneracy you encounter while scrolling through the comments sections of online videos featuring Bridges gives you a clearer illustration of this dilemma. But, at the end of the day, if she can fight, which Bridges has demonstrated she most definitely can, does stepping on the scales in lingerie the day before really matter all that much? To Shannon Courtenay, it apparently does.
“This is the fight game. It’s not a fashion show or a catwalk. I’m too long in the tooth to let mind games get to me,” professed Courtenay who, it’s safe to say, is not a fan of Ebanie’s antics. “She likes to stand and trade and I like to stand and trade. I just want to fight. I just want to punch her in the face. If she wants to burn her energy and time on social media, then let her do that. If she wants to put polls out about underwear and wear a tiara on weigh-in day, then crack on. Fill your boots. I don’t care. I’m there to fight.”
Shannon could not deny, however, that Bridges is “a good fighter,” adding during a recent press junket, “She’s come forward and aggressive. Stylistically it’s going to be a very good fight. I’m going to win. I’m not going to say how I’m going to do it. I’m confident in myself and I’m confident in my ability. It’s evident that I can dig hard. She looks like she can dig hard as well.”
Hoping to disprove the notion that she is no more than a Barbie doll in boxing trunks, Bridges countered Courtenay’s incredulity by vowing to become “a fucking folk hero in the UK” by knocking Shannon out. Failing that, she promised that “by the end of the fight her face is going to end up looking like a smashed crab on a rock. It’s going to be messed up. She won’t be looking the same when this is finished. She’s in for a shock if she thinks I’m only worried about looking good on the scales. When I win that belt, the world is my oyster. It will open up opportunities everywhere.”
When it came time to trade punches instead of insults, the pre-fight ballyhoo quickly became academic as Courtenay and Bridges jointly put on a memorable, bloody show at Wembley. Bridges stalked Courtenay across the ring, going to the body with regularity in addition to making good use of the counter left hook she worked on while training with WBA super-lightweight champion Kali Reis in Philadelphia after discovering that Shannon tends to drop her left hand while loading up with the right.
Stepping on the accelerator in the second round, Ebanie varied her punch output by throwing uppercuts and straight rights into the mix. Bridges literally drew first blood in the last minute of the second stanza courtesy of a cut that appeared at the hairline above Courtenay’s left eye which was the result of an accidental head clash. It wasn’t long before the close-quarters infighting caused both combatants to be streaked in gore.
Shannon responded appropriately in the third with a sustained attack of body blows and head shots, using her jab to create a more breathable workspace. Nonplussed, Bridges continued to force the issue, dictating a faster and more furious pace which was to her advantage. However, no ground gained by either fighter held very long thanks to a ceaselessly violent ebb and flow. Just as she was susceptible to Bridges’ left hook, Courtenay’s right hand began to receive a more or less open invitation from Ebanie. One of these hooks buckled the knees of Bridges with half a minute to go in the fifth round, and Courtenay unloaded on her momentarily demobilized opponent.
Bridges held on and weathered the storm but was rocked by another right just prior to the bell even though she managed to catch the worst of the impact on the glove pressed to her temple. With only a few seconds of the sixth round having run off the clock, Courtenay doubled up on Bridges with a right to the chin and a left cross that caught Ebanie directly on her left eye. She immediately winced and tried to blink the pain away, but the swelling started soon after and became more and more pronounced as the minutes wore on.
Despite the commentators’ insistence on writing Bridges off just as the momentum swung in Shannon’s favor, Ebanie proved that she was made of tougher stuff than her predilection for frilly undergarments might have you believe by digging deep and fighting back with admirable resolve. Her puffed-up left eye provided Courtenay with a prominent target, however, and Shannon took advantage of every given opportunity to worsen it with clean shots.
Utilizing excellent lateral movement in the ninth, Courtenay worked Ebanie over from a variety of angles while trying to avoid the counter left hooks and uppercuts a fatigued but determined Bridges was firing off. The final minute of round nine produced the fight’s most thrilling sequence as a trio of right hands staggered Bridges and Courtenay looked to put her away with a series of punches landing on Ebanie’s injured left eye as well as digging into her midsection with the hope of getting Bridges to drop her guard just long enough to end the night with a well-placed power shot. Shannon did unload yet another big right hook not long before the bell, but Bridges walked through it and kept coming forward, putting up a strong showing in the tenth and last round of a thrilling scrap that undoubtedly stole the show.
Whatever bad blood existed between them before the fight stained their tank tops as the verdict was read by ring announcer David Diamante awarding the unanimous decision and the vacant WBA bantamweight world title to Shannon Courtenay by a margin of 97-94 on one scorecard and matching tallies of 98-92. Ebanie Bridges was a terrific sport in defeat, applauding and hugging the new champion in the ring and posing for photos with Shannon back in the dressing room while proudly pointing at her purple shiner like a hard-earned badge of honor.
One could argue that a return bout would be not only warranted, but very highly anticipated. But, one could also argue that #1 ranked Shannon O’Connell is rightfully next up for a title shot after having gotten passed over this time around. That very argument, not surprisingly, has been made by O’Connell herself, who congratulated Courtenay on her victory but made it known that she is more than ready to rumble whenever her namesake is up to the challenge.
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