It is almost a year to the day since Denzel Bentley jumped on a flight to Las Vegas for his first crack at a world title.
He stepped into the ring with fearsome WBO middleweight champion, Zhanibek Alimkhanuly overlooked and underrated. Bentley’s self belief visibly grew as the fight went on. He may not have won the title but when he left the ring an hour or so later, he did so as a potential future champion.
“I have to show that I belong”
“That’s crazy. I’m getting memories on my phone from when I was there in Vegas,” Bentley told 32Red. “The first memory on my phone was when I got to the airport. It’s been a year already. It’s been a funny year. I’d like to have been more active but I’m not in a bad position. I bounced back nicely and I’m on a good card. I’m feeling myself a bit more. I can feel the improvements. I’m getting better. I’m still learning. I’m correcting mistakes. It’s all a journey. I’ve got a lot of self confidence and self belief that I’m of a certain level. I’m not competing there at the moment but I need to be able to.”
Bentley has only had one opportunity to show those improvements but he made the most of it. In April he blitzed Keiran Smith inside a minute. Bentley is back in action this weekend and knows the importance of maintaining that momentum when he defends his British title against the unbeaten Nathan Heaney in Manchester. For all the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
“I don’t wanna be hanging around at British title level much longer. That’s something that’s on my mind,” Bentley said. “If I wanna get back there I have to show that I belong. I did that last time against Keiran Smith, I have to do it again. That the thing with boxing – that’s the thing with entertainment – you have to show up every time. You can’t have an off day or it’s, ‘He’s not the same anymore. He’s washed up. He’s not that good.’
“I’ve gotta be on point. I’ve got be fit, sharp, well, ready. Yeah, man. Everything.”
“I’ll be fighting be the best version of him”
Heaney is a sizeable underdog this weekend and not many are giving the 34-year-old a chance of upsetting the odds. We don’t have to look too far into the past for an example of an underdog shocking the world – Tyson Fury is probably still having nightmares about Francis Ngannou – but Bentley hasn’t overlooked the threat Heaney possesses. In fact, the fear of not living up to people’s expectations and the consequences of getting things wrong have pushed him on throughout training.
“One of the hardest things about this camp has been the mental side of it,” he said. “Staying focused, staying committed and not overlooking things. Everyone expects you to do one thing and even if I win but win badly and look bad, that’s a loss for me. There’s a number of ways that I can damage myself in this fight even if I come out with a victory.
“This is his dream. No matter how it goes it’ll be the best version of him and the most prepared version of him that anyone has seen. How am I gonna deal with that? I can’t overlook him. I can’t listen to people saying it’s an easy fight. I can’t think I don’t wanna hurt him because he’s a nice guy. I have to make myself wanna hurt him because he’s trying to take food off my plate.”
Bentley may have confidence that he is developing into a world class operator but Heaney will enter the fight with the confidence of an unbeaten fighter. Bentley has been in exactly the position Heaney finds himself in now and he knows exactly how important it is that he stamps his authority on the fight from the opening bell.
“I’m gonna enjoy it, bring it on”
“100%, I’ve gotta knock that confidence out of him and make him believe he hasn’t got a chance and can’t do anything. Make him give up mentally before I stop him. That’s the challenge I’ve set myself.
“The element of fear I’ve got is not to look bad. It’s not that he can hurt me or that he can beat me. He can’t outbox me, he doesn’t punch like me, he can’t out-think me. If I wanna push on to world titles I can’t look bad. I have to do a good job.”
Anybody who has played or watched sport at any level will recognise the sense of satisfaction at shutting up the opposing fans. It doesn’t matter whether it is a Sunday morning game against a local pub from the same town or a televised FA Cup tie, those are the games that stick in the memory for those who watched and played in them. Heaney is a massive Stoke City fan and is bringing an army of over two thousand supporters to Manchester. They will create a hostile big fight atmosphere and Bentley is relishing the chance to silence them.
“Oh, I’m gonna enjoy it. Bring it on. This ain’t the first time I’ve been in the away corner. Well, I’m not in the away corner but it’ll feel like it because it’s gonna be all Stoke. Bring it on. When you’re playing football and you shut up the other crowd? Come on, that’s a game and a half. There’s nothing better than that. I’m looking forward to it. That’s not a worry for me?
“I don’t understand the questions about the crowd. I don’t really know what people want me to say. Yeah, they’ll be there and shouting. It doesn’t matter.”