Bentley from the block: Denzel Bentley interview
Photo: James Chance/Getty Images
Middleweight Denzel Bentley has come a long way since trying to establish an unofficial fight club on a housing estate in south London. Shaun Brown hears his story...
The traditional tale of someone getting into boxing normally involves tagging along with a sibling to a gym, following in the footsteps of a relation or becoming hooked by a superstar fighter when they were growing up.
Denzel Bentley’s story is a little bit different.
Sport had already played a big part in his youth before boxing came along; football, basketball and rugby – something he enjoyed because of the “full on contact” – had all been dabbled in. In fact, football would be the first choice in the dream profession of the young athlete who aspired to be a professional only to give it up at 16 having not being picked up by a club.
“I got a bit salty about it all!” said Bentley looking back on a time with Boxing Monthly which he can now laugh about.
Boxing would become the chosen field around the age of 17-18 but a couple of years prior to that his brother had bought a pair of boxing gloves. The plan was for them to make some money by getting people to pay to fight them and each other at the block of flats they lived in south London in an area between Battersea and Vauxhall. An unofficial fight club of sorts but no-one would step up. So, instead of fighting the local kids, Denzel and his brother would fight one another.
“We just used to stick the gloves and headguard on in our block and park and stuff, we didn’t have a gumshield, we didn’t know about a mouth guard.”
Soon those that didn’t want to pay to fight would be called out. No money would be exchanged, just fists.
“One on ones all the time,” said Bentley of the contests that began with bravado and ended with respect. “We all knew each other, we were all friends, we used to talk trash ‘You can beat me up? Let’s get the gloves on’. You got at it and beat up and moved on, but everyone was respectful. Good fights and move on. No one was paying to fight so we just started fighting everyone else who wanted to fight: ‘Okay you’re turn now’ and we just kept rotating it. It was just for fun."
Then the penny dropped with some of the fellow scrappers who didn’t fight in a ring but instead fought near the block of flats or in a little space in a park or in a football cage. The Bentley brothers were advised to pursue boxing. There was one problem, they had never seen an amateur gym before and didn’t know where to find one.
“So, when I get to college, I met someone there that was boxing, and they took me to a gym so me and my brother started boxing. He stopped and I carried on. I started to enjoy it, so I just thought I’d go on with it.”
Even before having an amateur contest Bentley was desperate to turn professional when the sport hooked him in his late teens. He just wanted to fight. As soon as he walked into his old amateur gym, he asked his trainer at the time Steve Howes: ‘How long do you think before I can turn professional?’ The trainer would laugh at the impetuous teen. ‘What do you mean? You have to fight as an amateur first,’ was his response.
“And I’m like ‘Aw that’s long!’” laughed Bentley.
“I left the gym and didn’t really want to do it but after a while I was like ‘I’m going back to the gym’ so I was on and off for a long time. That’s why it took me so long to have an amateur fight. I was a bit overweight at the time actually. I’d done (the) Insanity (workout), dropped a bit of weight and I got back to the gym.
"Took it more serious from there, lost more weight because I had to make 75kg and I was about 90kg, so as I’ve lost some weight doing Insanity I’ve went back to the gym, took it a little bit more serious and my coach at the time got me matched up. Had my first fight and I was buzzing from that and I thought ‘Yeah. We’re in now,’ and just kept going.”
Twenty-six fights later (17 as an amateur, nine currently as a pro) and the 24-year-old middleweight prospect, trained by Ray Ball and Martin Bowers at the Peacock Gym, is beginning to make a bit of noise in his division. Eight opponents haven’t heard the final bell, and his fan-friendly style and personality saw him sign a promotional deal with Frank Warren.
Bentley would make his debut for the Hall of Fame promoter at the historic Albert Hall halting Julio Cesar in the second round. Next up for Bentley is a visit to Wembley Arena on Saturday night, live on BT Sport, with a six rounder against Pavol Garaj.
“Everything’s going well, sparring’s been going good, feeling injury free, everything’s going well,” said the former Sainsbury’s worker about his preparations.
“Looking to send another statement out,” he continued. “It’s a big show so why not. Got a tough opponent that’s only been stopped once [by Kieran Smith last year], so I’ll be looking to make a statement. I won’t be forcing anything, but I’ll be hoping to make a statement.”
Seven fights in 2018 was the ideal year for Bentley and a repeat over the next eight months would satisfy the Londoner’s thirst for fighting, but the middleweight would much prefer to be involved in meaningful fights if that meant having less time in the ring.
“Having signed with Frank I’ve got to get myself on camera!” he said. “I definitely would prefer to have 50-50 fights, title fights, something towards the end of the year, and if not, I’d just like to be as active as I was last year.”
And Bentley has a message for those who may be tuning in to watch him for the first time in his career.
“They shouldn’t change the channel; they might see a knockout! They should expect an exciting fighter. They should expect a fighter with a lot of skill and a lot of potential and someone’s that going to come to fight and not be negative. It should be good; it should be exciting.”