Denzel Bentley has taken the old fashioned hard route to success and the British middleweight champion’s approach to training is just as traditional. Rather than pushing himself through gruelling, intense training camps, Bentley much prefers to be in the gym day in, day out knocking the sharp edges off his game rather than trimming pounds off his weight.
The 28-year-old bounced back into the gym after his hard fought world title defeat to Zhanibek Alimkhanuly last November. Bentley might not have left Las Vegas with the WBO title but he did arrive back home in Battersea with the respect of the boxing world and a tonne of self belief.
As much as Bentley loves being in the gym, completing the final session before business gets really serious is still something to be savoured.
“It’s just that feeling that, ‘I’m here’. All that’s left to do is fight. I’m not bothered about tough sessions – we train hard all year so it’s always tough – but it’s just that feeling that we’re there now. We’re ready,” Bentley told 32Red last Friday.
“I don’t know what it is. I have a lot of energy that I can’t use. I don’t know if it’s adrenaline, butterflies or just that I can’t train as hard as I want to. I’m itching to go. I’m ready to be let off the leash.
“Do the basics right and that’ll get you far”
“I was a lot more confident [going back to the gym after the Zhanibek loss]. It made me realise that my career doesn’t come to an end after a loss. If anything, my career has gone up more from that fight than any other. It doesn’t really feel like I’m coming off a loss even though I am. I’ve just gotta make sure I do everything I can to make sure I don’t take another loss back to back.”
Elite sportsman often say that they realise they have really started to understand their trade when it begins to feel like the action is slowing down.
Top footballers seem to have an extra yard of space, cricketers can figure out the flight of a ball and get their feet into position with a 6ft 5in tall fast bowler bearing down on them and motor racers can calculate the smallest manoeuvres as the scenery flashes past them.
There aren’t many sports where having a bit of extra time can make such a difference as boxing. It isn’t a sport of inches, a few millimetres can be the difference between having a very good or a very bad day. This isn’t The Matrix – fighters don’t suddenly develop the ability to effortlessly dodge a five punch combination – but finding an extra split second to set a trap or timing the perfect shot at the perfect moment because they know exactly what punch is likely to come back their way separates the good from the great.
“This is my chance to prove that I’m who say I am”
“I felt every little bit of improvement. I can feel all my mistakes. It’s crazy that I’m much more aware of what I’m doing now skill wise. I’ve been working on certain things and it’s just an eye opener. It’s like I know what it takes to get to that level, I’ve been there and know that I am that level and now it’s time to make sure that the next time I’m there I win and conquer that level. I’ve been focused on the tiny details,” Bentley said.
“Coming through, sometimes you just wanna do the extraordinary stuff and the amazing things but no, do the subtle things and the basics right and that’ll get you far.
“I’m seeing things and I’m like, ‘Oh snap.’ Even sparring isn’t such a rush. I’m controlling everything. I’m controlling the pace and what I wanna do. If I wanna step on it I can, If I wanna slow it down I can. I can see shots coming and defend them or get out of the way. I’m enjoying the whole process. It’s composure. It’s not such a blur or rush to you. It’s crazy how it works.”
It has been five months since Bentley fought on even terms with one of the most feared fighters in the division but if Kieran Smith is thinking that a return to British title level will result in an unmotivated or overconfident version of ‘2 Sharp’ turning up at The Copperbox this weekend he will be sorely disappointed. For all the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
“I’ve been the underdog in every situation I’ve been in”
Bentley has crammed a lot into 20 professional fights but he has has done the vast majority of it as an underdog. He was the fighter who had to take dangerous short notice fights to prove himself and the man who was thrown into title fights way ahead of schedule. He has had to rebound from damaging defeat and was written off as a no-hoper before he even boarded the flight to Las Vegas for his world title shot.
Entering a fight week as the man to beat is a new experience and brings with it its own pressures but Bentley is relishing the chance to show that not only is he developing into a true threat a world level but that he is also becoming a genuine attraction on the British scene.
“It’s not hard to get up for this fight. I’m as motivated as anything. This is my chance to prove that I’m who say I am. I’ve been the underdog in every situation I’ve been in. I’ve probably been the favourite in no big fight until the Marcus Morrison fight. To be in this position is everything I’ve worked for. My journey has been up and down, I haven’t had a smooth road but I’m proud of the journey I’ve taken. I’m proud that I’ve done it this way and haven’t had it easy. Now I’ve got to prove it again. Martin [Bowers, his trainer] said to me in the gym, ‘You’re not as good as your last performance. You’re as good as your next one.’ Yeah, I did well [v Janibek] but I don’t like taking too much credit for it because I didn’t win.
“Nobody knows how good this guy is. Nobody really cares. The level he’s boxed at doesn’t compare to the level I have. I’ve gotta go there and really prove that I deserve a rematch with Janibek and all of these other things I want.
“In the past people might have looked at a card and come to see the fight I was in but this is the first time I’m stepping in the ring where people are saying, ‘Let’s go and see Denzel Bentley.’ I’ve got to make sure that this performance is explosive and that I come out on top. I’ve just gotta do everything I’ve been doing in the gym and no disrespect to Kieran but this will be a good night.”