Lawrence Bennett: From the track to the ring

Shaun Brown
11/08/2015 10:07am

On 17 October inside the sweaty confines of the historic York Hall, the jovial and likeable Lawrence Bennett (promoted by Steve Goodwin) will challenge Matty Askin for his English cruiserweight title. For Bennett (7-1, 1 KO), it will be another ‘pinch me’ moment after winning the Southern Area title last year with a 99-94 points decision win over Jack Morris. It was a dream come true for the 32-year-old Bennett after a remarkable transition that began with hopes and dreams on the athletics track to those of a much smaller running area inside the squared circle.

As a teenager, Bennett was a highly promising athlete in a discipline that requires a finely tuned mix of speed and endurance. The distance of 400 metres, which equals one lap of a track, can be over in 43.18 seconds, just ask long-time world record holder Michael Johnson. Bennett’s aspirations for such greatness took a little longer to disappear and it’s an experience that could have gone oh-so-different. A lack of commitment, combined with the desire to live a little, puts that chapter of his life firmly in the ‘what might’ve been’ category.

“I used to do the 400 metres and 400 metres hurdles. I ran for England Schoolboys when I was 16 and went to the Commonwealth Games trials in 2002,” Bennett told Boxing Monthly. “At 18, 19, I strayed away. I wanted to do other things rather than just be training. I think it was a progression. I look back at it now and think it was a bit of a waste really because I was doing the club life and hanging out with girls. At the time, I’d been just training and wanted to live a little so I thought I’d take a little sabbatical and get back to running but it didn’t work out that way to be honest.”

Revisiting sporting dreams after a period away can be a humbling reality check as Bennett discovered. One minute he was representing England Schoolboys and had his name in the papers with people already knowing who he was at events such as the National Championships. The next he was suffering from injury and, an athlete who was once in the top three in the country, was at the bottom of the food chain.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system,” he recalled. “So I fell out of love a little bit with athletics and got on with life really. A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you do a bit of boxing, you used to be an athlete?’ So I started going down a little club called St. Gerards ABC in Chichester. I wasn’t thinking about fighting, it was about keeping fit.”

Despite having left athletics long ago, Bennett is fortunate enough to draw inspiration from a now iconic name in the sport he once knew: London 2012 Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres champion Mo Farah.

“I knew Mo Farah from 16, 17, coming up and he was a good athlete. He was always winning national titles but never in my wildest dreams or in his wildest dreams did he think or I think he’d be double Olympic champion,” said Bennett.

“That just pushed me so hard. There’s people I know, people I’ve seen and they’re not superhuman. They’re just dedicated and, with hard work, you can achieve whatever. I’ll tell you a story…I didn’t think Mo Farah was going to be the person from our age group, our year, that was going to be double Olympic champion. There were so many talented athletes out there. There were people who had world records as juniors and they faded away but he was dedicated and hardworking. He had a little bit of luck but it’s about putting the work in, I think.”

Upon telling friends and family that he would be dipping his toes into boxing’s oceanic waters, Bennett was met with reactions of ‘Are you mental?’ Having had just two amateur fights, which resulted in one win and one defeat, it wasn’t long before some old mental demons from his athletics days decided to revisit him all over again. Bennett had already left one sporting dream behind him; to stop himself waking away from another, he decided to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror.

“My second {amateur) fight, I was on top of the world,” he recalled. “I thought I was winning the fight. [But] I lost the fight in front of my home fans and it was the lowest feeling ever. I thought, ‘Oh God’ - maybe I wasn’t cut out for boxing. I trained really hard and wanted to get back in and correct it but I couldn’t get enough fights.

“I was training without a fight and started thinking what am I doing? So I fell out of love with boxing. I was training, not fighting and thought I wasn’t good enough to be doing this boxing malarkey. Then one day, I looked in the mirror and [thought] ‘I didn’t make it at running so I gave up, boxing I didn’t really give it a go, football I’m a bit too old for that.’ I decided I was going to be a professional boxer and give it 110% and see where I come out.”

Bennett decided to prove everyone wrong; those who thought he was too old, those who thought he was no good and those who told him to try something else. “I’m the kind of character that if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll do it,” he said.

Despite dreams of owning a Ferrari or living a Floyd Mayweather lifestyle, Bennett soon realised the harsh realities of modern day boxing - selling tickets. After moving to a new area in Swindon, there wasn’t exactly a Josh Warrington or Frank Buglioni fanbase to call on. It wasn’t long before the phrase of ‘Have gloves, will travel’ forcibly had a ring of appeal and sense of purpose to it for Bennett.

Part two coming soon to www.boxingmonthly.com

[Video: Lawrence Bennett WTKO1 Jamie Hearn - March 13, 2015]