ROUTINE never bites harder than during the damp, dull days of November. The mornings are dark, the evenings are darker and whatever your line of work, without self-motivation or a target to aim for, it is very easy to subconsciously switch off and drift along to the end of the year. The real hard work can start again in January.
In 2018 one such November day would change the course of Denzel Bentley’s life. It would be anything but routine. “I was in the gym that Monday morning. I’d been preparing for a fight on a Peacock Gym dinner show in December but got told it wasn’t happening. I carried on training though. I did ten rounds sparring and my groundwork and stuff and went home,” Bentley told Boxing News.
“Ray Ball from the gym rings me. He asks how I am and had I eaten. I was wondering what was with all the questions. I tell him I’m alright and he says that’s good because you might be fighting. I asked when and he said, ‘Today.’ Somebody had pulled out of one of Frank Warren’s dinner shows and they needed a replacement. ‘Today? Ok, cool.’ I put the phone down I was wondering what have I just done.”
Bentley had taken a gamble. The 25-year-old middleweight has come a long way since he and his brother picked up some gloves and a head-guard and opened up their own unofficial fight club in the blocks of the Battersea estate they lived on and he has an acute awareness that nothing is handed to young fighter who turns professional without a strong amateur background or a rabid fanbase. He knew that this was his opportunity.
“I’m running around getting ready and my brother goes, ‘Woah, be careful. This is your career. You can’t go taking silly fights.’ My dad said the same. You’re tired, you just trained and all that. I just told him that I’m not asking, I’m telling you I’m fighting. The only person who was telling me to do it was my mum. I thought it would be the opposite way around. She was telling me to go for it and she’d pray for me.
“We’re on the way there and I still don’t know who I’m fighting. They say Serge Ambomo [the strong Cameroonian Olympian]. I recognised the name so I searched him. Oh my days.
“I didn’t wanna rush because I didn’t know if I could last. I stepped it up in the second round and he walked onto a right hand. It landed so clean. If I ever get asked how the deal with Frank came about, I tell that story. If I hadn’t taken it I think I might still be on the small hall shows.”
Bentley isn’t the type to die wondering. His fighting style mirrors the daring approach he applies to his career and it is that willingness to test his abilities that makes this weekend’s fight with Mark Heffron so eye-catching.
These days, Heffron cuts a much more confident figure than the man who allowed self-doubt to engulf and tame him during his supposed coming out party against Liam Williams. If Bentley is able to perform in his usual exuberant way, two of Britain’s most exciting and heavy handed middleweights might just produce something memorable.
“I don’t know Mark personally so I don’t know how he is mentally but I know exactly how I am. I’m up for a fight. I don’t turn anything down and I know when I’m good and solid. Everybody has doubts and thinks about every possible outcome but I don’t go into things just because others think it’s the right thing to do at the time. Once something’s done, it’s on. Let’s go. I’m ready. I’m going to put everything on the line and do all I can on the night to win. I hear Mark’s come up in a tough place and he’s done his bits and he’s a good fighter but I’m trying to move on and be the best I can be. I don’t know what he wants but I’m trying to progress.”
This weekend will be Bentley’s first title fight but there is a sense that he knew this moment would come and that he feels he is exactly where he should be. He is still a long way from the final destination he has in mind but if you are happy and comfortable in your surroundings, there is no harm in looking forward to what might be around the next corner.
“You look in America and the young guys are the world champions. Over here we seem to stall a bit. We seem to want to wait until we’re 28 or 29 and fully grown men before taking the big opportunities. There’s a new group of fighters coming through trying to take over things and I’m one of them.
“Of course it’s nice to have a title on the line but look at these older guys who’ve retired. You hear people say, ‘He was a former Southern Area champion’ and you think, ‘Wow, he fought some tough guys to win that’ but nobody is ever gonna announce you as the IBF European champion are they? I’m not disrespecting the titles but what does that really mean? People tend to go for them because you can get an easy fight and it gets you a world ranking.
“Well, I’ve not got an easy fight for it. Me and Mark Heffron is a British title [level] fight. I think it’s that solid.”