The lockdown period played havoc with British boxing but one man managed to cram more into the past 16 months than almost anybody else.
Denzel Bentley (14-1-1, 12 KO’s) learned lots about the business during the strange sterile year. When the doors closed behind him Bentley was promising, explosive but unproven. Over the course of four fights and nine months he would establish himself as one of the major players on the British middleweight scene, winning the British title before losing it to Felix Cash in a fight that captured the imagination of everybody involved in British boxing.
“You know what? I’ve realised that as quick as you can get something, it can be taken away just as quick,” Bentley told 32Red. “That’s one thing that comes to my mind when I think about the past year. I went from Mick Hall to Mark Heffron to Heffron again to the British title and then, boom, I lost it [against Cash]. I’m not completely back to where I was before lockdown but I am sort of back to where I was before lockdown if that makes sense.
“In mind my I’m thinking, ‘Damn, I’ve got nothing again.’
“I’ve gotta appreciate everything that happened. I was busy, I had big fights and I headlined twice so I can’t really complain but I was at the top and now I want to get back there and stay there.”
Having clambered quickly up the mountain, Bentley is in no mood to return to base camp. These days lots of fighters ration the big fights and pick and choose their way through the divisions, Bentley doesn’t have that mindset. He may feel like he “has nothing” but what he has done is build his name. If he beats Sam Evans in Birmingham this weekend, it won’t be long before he is back in the mix for the biggest fights on the British middleweight scene. For all the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
“To be honest – because of the result of the last fight – I wanted to get right back out. I wanted to be out literally the next couple of months. It didn’t work out like that so I’ve taken my time and I’m on this weekend,” he said.
“When I would speak to you before I used to talk about not wanting to hang about. Look at Josh Taylor, he has big fights all the time and he’s excelling. I know he has more experience than me and he is who he is but those are the types of fights I want to be in too. That’s the type of credit I want. I want to be the guy who took big fights and came out on top.”
Bentley’s friends did the hard yards, buying tickets directly from him to watch him learn his craft against journeymen at York Hall and the Camden Centre and sitting in draughty, sparsely populated arenas when Bentley found himself fighting down the card on the bigger televised shows. When his big moments arrived, they were forced to witness his highs and lows through the television along with the rest of the country. Watching their friend walk out into a big, busy area will be a new experience for the fans this weekend but – weirdly considering the level he has been fighting at recently – it will also be a first for Bentley.
“Most of the people around me are family and close friends. I don’t have many people who popped up after all his happened,” Bentley said. “To be honest, if I do go shopping I do get little shout outs. I’m like, ‘Oh snap, you know who I am.’ I’m still getting used to it. I guess some people are finding it a bit easier to watch me on telly now but the ones who’ve always been coming out and coming to the fights couldn’t wait to come to the fights again. They just want to come to the event. Everything’s pretty sweet. They missed all the fun stuff. I’ve gotta get back so they can enjoy it again.
“I think the ringwalk might get me bit amped up with everybody being there but behind the scenes I’ll be alright. It depends how packed the venue is. I’m used to fighting behind closed doors and now everybody’s there. I’ve never been that high up on a card before.”
In April, the fight with Cash grabbed the attention of the boxing public. With unbeaten records and major titles on the line, the Queensbury-Matchroom promotional rivalry added an extra dimension. For a fighter who first traded punches on his Battersea estate using a pair of market stall boxing gloves, there was a lot to deal with and that’s without taking Cash’s undoubted ability into question. It’s easy to forget just how early into his career Bentley is and if he can learn from what happened, future opponents will have far more to worry about than raw power and natural ability. Muscles have memory and the next time he finds himself in that kind of situation, Bentley’s new found maturity might just kick in automatically.
“There’s a few things I can learn,” he said. “I thought I did everything wrong in that fight from the jump. In the opening round I got caught with a hook and it kind of threw me off. I wasn’t in panic mode because I don’t panic but I wasn’t settled. I needed to settle down and hold my feet a bit but I was bouncing around and trying to box and move. He was relaxed and saw what I was doing and was able to land. I also felt like he was a lot bigger than me and stronger. I guess he hydrated better than I did. There were a few things I thought, ‘Ok, right. I’ve gotta improve on that.’”