IN light of the fact Denzel Bentley knew about a potential fight in Las Vegas against WBO belt-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly two weeks before his last fight, you could be forgiven for thinking the aggressive approach he adopted against Marcus Morrison in September was the result of impatience.
Urgent, authoritative, and in the end clinical, the British middleweight champion certainly carried the demeanour of a man on a mission that night, though insists this was merely the style necessary for that particular opponent. It wasn’t, he insists, influenced by what he knew was on the horizon.
“It was almost two weeks before the Morrison fight (that he got the news of a potential Alimkhanuly fight),” Bentley told Boxing News. “If I had found out a couple of days before fight week, I think it would have been on my mind more. But because I heard about it a long time before that I was able to have a week thinking about it and then I had fight week concentrating only on Morrison, who is no joke. I could push it to the back of my mind a little bit.
“It wasn’t just thrown at me. I was mentally prepared. After the fight I had time to think about it and really make a decision. I then came to the decision to take it when I realised it was the right fight for me.”
Before that he had to get past Morrison and do so without getting either cut or injured or enduring the kind of fight that would require a long layoff in order to recover.
“I was under instructions to go with him (Morrison) if he starts fast and that’s exactly what I did,” said Bentley, 17-1-1 (14). “I know I’ve got that style in my locker but obviously because of the (Felix) Cash loss (in April 2021) everyone is going to try to use that as a blueprint. I’ve got to be really careful when I go into fights against guys who are going to try to start fast and stick it on me.
“I was over the moon with it, though. There are a few things to tighten up, but, with the way it ended, I was happy with it. I was saying constantly throughout the buildup that I wanted to be the first middleweight to stop him and I managed to do that.”
The stoppage of Morrison arrived in the fourth round, by which point only Morrison had accrued any real damage. Bentley, on the other hand, exited the ring relatively fresh and was now free, moreover, to draw a list of the pros and cons of fighting Alimkhanuly in Las Vegas on November 12.
“I took a couple of days off, got back in the gym, and the fight was on.
“People keep saying, ‘Oh, this fight is too soon, you only just fought,’ but I’m known for taking fights at short notice and doing quite well. To me, it’s not short notice, either. I’m already fit. All I’ve got to do is prepare and have a strategy to beat this guy.
“I prefer to be active. Martin (Bowers, trainer) doesn’t really like us to be out the gym. You have a fight; you have one week off. You have a hard fight; you have two weeks off. Other than that, you’re in the gym. We’re in the gym all year round, which allows us to be ready for these opportunities. If I’m going to be in the gym all year round, I want to be as active as possible. I don’t get paid to go to the gym and train. My career doesn’t flourish or progress by staying in the gym.”
So far 2022 has been the kind of year Bentley wants, one full of activity and opportunity. He has, after all, managed to win two British title fights, one against Linus Udofia in May and the other against Morrison, as well as seen his stock rise on account of the action he produced against both those opponents.
“It’s been a very good year,” the 27-year-old said. “Just last year I was coming off a loss to Felix Cash at British level and thinking, What do I do? I was struggling to get a comeback fight and ended up fighting in Birmingham on two weeks’ notice (against Sam Evans, whom Bentley stopped in three rounds). I took that opportunity and then ended up fighting for the British title again against Linus. Everything has just gone up from there. It’s crazy how the tables can turn.”
Having made his own luck since losing his unbeaten record to Cash, Bentley will likely need some more of it on November 12 in Las Vegas. It is there he will challenge Alimkhanuly, a Kazakh southpaw whose 12 pro wins to date (eight inside schedule) have signalled huge potential without, Bentley feels, giving the rest of the middleweight division anything to fear.
“I think he’s a good fighter, I just don’t think he’s scary,” Bentley explained. “I think the fact that he’s confident makes people scared of him. But I don’t see the scariness about him.
“I think he’s a quality fighter, and very slick, but his best attribute is probably how relaxed he is in the ring. He doesn’t panic. He’s always flowing, never tense. But I don’t see the (Gennadiy) Golovkin-type aura with him. I know he’s a Kazakh, and Golovkin has obviously put them on the map, but now it’s almost like any Kazakh who is even half decent is hyped up to be really dangerous. I don’t see it.
“I think us British fighters are dangerous, I think American fighters are dangerous, and I think there are lots of dangerous fighters from all around the world. You can’t just say someone’s dangerous because they come from the same country as another dangerous fighter. I’m not buying it.”
It’s an interesting point, this idea that Kazakhs are by proxy dangerous thanks to the exploits of their finest export, Golovkin. What’s more, as Bentley correctly points out, Alimkhanuly, despite his talents and the belt he currently holds, is a man no more experienced in the pro game than he is.
“Even the way he got his title, he didn’t really win it,” Bentley said. “Without wanting to be disrespectful, he got elevated. He’s not actually beaten someone for it. It wasn’t like he beat (Demetrius) Andrade to get the belt. Then you’d be like, ‘Okay, wow.’
“He’s been dispatching his opponents well, which shows he’s above that level, but he hasn’t beaten anyone at world level yet.”
Bentley added: “I’ve got a lot of doubters saying I shouldn’t have taken this fight, but, listen, this is where I want to be. I want to be a world champion and I want to be in big fights. I’ve had 19 fights, been a pro five years, so what am I waiting for, another five years?”