Denzel Bentley knows just how quickly opinions can change in boxing.

Last November, he was an exciting, improving fighter who was just one win away from a second shot at a world middleweight title.

Six months later the 29-year-old is arguably just one defeat away from career oblivion. 

Fortunately, the two-time British middleweight champion doesn’t spend too much time worrying what others think. Experience has taught him that boxing fans tend to have short memories. 

On Saturday night, Bentley, 18-3-1 (15 KOs), boxes for the first time since losing his British middleweight title to Nathan Heaney in Manchester last November and the Londoner knows that should he beat Danny Dignum in spectacular fashion, the memory of his tame showing against Heaney will quickly fade. 

“Everyone else is gonna say what they’re gonna say and I suppose it makes sense. The way my career’s gone, people are gonna doubt me and then afterwards they’re like, “Maybe he’s better than I thought.” It all depends on what you’ve done last,” he told BoxingScene. “I just have to prove to myself that I’m still at this level and that I can compete at a decent enough level for me to continue boxing because there’s no fun in boxing if you can’t compete.”

Bentley hasn’t enjoyed a bump-free, stage-managed career and he’s rebounded successfully from defeats before.

He may have held the British title but he was still relatively inexperienced when he came out on the wrong end of a behind closed doors shootout with Felix Cash back in 2021 and although he would then lose a decision to now unified middleweight champion, Janibek Alimkhanuly, he ended the fight with more answers than questions, visibly growing in self-belief throughout his first step into world class.

Given the fact that he entered the fight with Heaney in such a strong position and as such was a large favourite, the loss might have been the most difficult to take but it was also the easiest to explain away.

Bentley knew he was sleepwalking through his decision loss to an inspired Heaney but, by that point, it was too late to shape himself out of his slumber. He didn’t spend the long drive home to Battersea questioning his abilities or wondering if he was a shot fighter. He had more important things on his mind. 

When he did sit down and think about the fight, Bentley didn’t have to dig too deep to uncover what had gone wrong. 

“It’s never happened to me before but that’s because the situation I was in had never happened to me before. I don’t make excuses and never will. Heaney turned up and put in a great performance but that was about a 20 per cent Denzel Bentley,” he said.

“I’d just had a son who was born prematurely and he was in hospital. I’ve never had a child before and he was in hospital in intensive care. I’m trying to push it to the back of my mind. I’ve had deaths in the family close to fights and been able to push it to the back of my mind. I don’t usually open up about things. I usually take things in my stride and get on with it. This one was hard to lock in.

“[During the fight] I’m worrying more about how he was doing than what I was doing and then even when he came out, he wasn’t with me. I made my partner go to her mum’s and tried to focus on the fight but you’re worrying how he is. Is his breathing better? Everything you worry about as a parent that you just can’t get out of your mind.

“When I weighed in, I was thinking, ‘Yes, good. I’ll knock him out and then I can go home tomorrow.’ That’s the attitude I went into the fight with. I overlooked him. Even though I wasn’t 100 per cent, I thought he wasn’t good enough to beat me if I was half my best and I can own up to that.”

The 10 days that Bentley spent driving between the gym and the hospital intensive care unit gave him a sense of perspective about the way he makes his living.

Bentley has always enjoyed his work and the whole experience taught him that he isn’t the type of fighter who can treat boxing purely as a job, clocking in at the gym and then switching off and forgetting all about it when he clocks out.

“It just made me realise that as much as I want to believe that boxing is life, it’s not. When life got in the way, boxing just wasn’t as important to me at that point,” he said.

“It became a job and something I had to get through to move on. If I was in there with someone I might have thought was more dangerous, I might have thought, ‘Yo, I’m not ready’ but I thought there was no danger in it and went through with it. 

“Now, I’m in a good place. Mentally, I’m not worrying about anything else than what I have to do.”

Make no mistake about it, Saturday’s fight between the former sparring partners is a crucial one for both fighters. 

Dignum, 16-1 (9 KOs), was an excellent amateur but his professional career hasn’t reached the heights many predicted. Aside from a May 2022 WBO interim title fight with Alimkhanuly, the 32-year-old has spent much of his career campaigning on the regional title circuit. His lone foray into world class didn’t go well. Alimkhanuly never allowed him to get a foothold in the fight and took him out in two one-sided rounds. 

Bentley’s son is now healthy and he has been able to focus solely on his own preparations. The complacency that shrouded the build-up to the fight with Heaney has gone and he has been so focused on himself that he hasn’t spent a second considering how Dignum will approach such an important fight.

“I don’t really care to be honest. That’s not my problem,” he said. “I’m not trying to think about what’s going on with him mentally and how can I capitalise on it. I’m just trying to capitalise on the skill and prepare for the best Danny Dignum. I’d heard rumours that he might retire but then this came along. It might give him a new spark of life and think, ‘If I can beat Denzel, then I’m back in there.’ I can’t let that happen.

“I’m not thinking about him having doubts. I couldn’t care less.”

Read the full article here