At eight years old Denzel Bentley left English education behind for a two-year period in Ghana which taught him one basic but fundamental quality. Respect.
Specifically, how to respect your elders.
English school life in the early 2000s was not a walk in the park by any means for Bentley but methods of discipline were less painful compared to those in Ghana.
“I enjoyed school in Ghana apart from getting into trouble and stuff,” Bentley told Boxing Social.
Few memories stood out for the Battersea boxer (14-0-1,12 KOs) as he thought back to those times, except for one anyway.
“If you misbehaved the cane was coming out! That doesn’t happen here. It got me respecting my elders a lot more, so I’ve got a lot more respect for my elders than maybe if I had stayed here [in England] all the way through my education.”
Stinging punishments aside, Ghana has a special place in Bentley’s heart. Both his mother and father reside from the West African country where annual trips are key in their son’s life which inadvertently act as a reminder of how fortunate he is.
“It’s good to keep grounded,” says Bentley.
“When you go back you see the position some people are in, you’re like damn I’m fortunate enough to be in the position I am in, especially with boxing.”
Bentley’s position in British boxing right now is one of responsibility and status as the current middleweight champion of these shores. The title was won in a November rematch against Mark Heffron which ended in a fourth-round retirement for the losing fighter. It takes nothing away from Bentley’s accomplishment in a fight which he was taking control of and was unlucky, initially, not to be given the verdict in their first, non-title, fight two months earlier which had ended in a draw.
It represented one part of a non-stop four-month stint in Bentley’s career which began with the cobwebs coming off against Mick Hall in July. Nine months later and Bentley stands hours away from defending his Lonsdale belt for the first time in a mouth-watering clash against the Commonwealth champion Felix Cash.
“As bad as the pandemic has been I honestly can’t complain,” he says reflecting on these last nine months.
“I’d rather be doing this than go out and celebrate things or go out and buy things. Everyone wants to live a normal life, don’t get me wrong, but this is my dream, this is what I decided to do regardless of if things were open. I’d have to isolate myself away anyway at times during camp to do these things. The fact I’ve been able to progress the way I have in 8-9 months is crazy. If anything, the pandemic has benefitted me. If things were normal, I’d maybe not have progressed as quickly so I’m just thankful for the opportunities I’ve got during the pandemic. I’m happy I was able to capitalise on all these opportunities and I plan to continue doing so and grabbing these opportunities with both hands, not taking anything for granted.”
Cash has Bentley’s full attention even if the 26 year old British champion didn’t initially expect the fight against Eddie Hearn’s middleweight to take place.
“I thought they were gonna go another route because that’s what happens. They don’t want to cross roads and fight on other channels or whatever the case may be because they feel comfortable where they are. They were talking about the European [title] so I thought they were going to sway towards that way, but they didn’t so credit to them.”
Bentley v Cash has all the ingredients of being a classic encounter.
Tonight, pits a Frank Warren fighter (Bentley) against an Eddie Hearn one in Cash. It’s a rare occurrence nowadays and isn’t a result of a lunch that was never going to take place between the two promoters to fashion out a cross-promotional card that looks good on social media. Cash was the mandatory British title challenger and Warren (Queensbury Promotions) won the purse bids. Old-fashioned simples.
As the weeks and days have counted down, the prospect of the fight growing closer and closer, expectations of the type of spectacle we will see have grown and grown. During fight week the respect between both has been put to one side as tensions have risen. This one is a bomb waiting to go off, but Bentley believes that this isn’t a step up in class from fighting Heffron.
“It’s not a step up, it’s the same level of fight, it’s still a 50-50 fight.,” he says.
“It’s still whoever turns up on the night. It’s still a close fight. In my mind I’m winning but it’s not a straight forward, routine win but it’s not a level above. Mark has fought for the British twice and Felix hasn’t so if anything in terms of levels Mark may have been a level above because he competed there. Obviously, Felix Cash is Commonwealth champion, he is a good fighter, and he is up there as well. It’s the same level of opponent just a different title.
“These were all fights I was calling for before they were even thought about being made. I wouldn’t talk a fighter’s name if, one: I didn’t think I could beat them and two: If I didn’t think they were good fighters anyway. Every name I’ve mentioned this far like Mark Heffron or Liam Williams or even Felix Cash they’re all good fighters. That’s the route I want to take in the sport, fighting all the tough fights so when I do step up to eventually European and World level I’m not going to be found out as they say or caught off guard.”
Bentley was somewhat caught off guard during his most recent venture to Ghana. The journey was originally made to pay respects to his grandmother and attend her funeral. It was a time to mourn, to remember and be with family. However, Bentley was travelling back for two months to his African home as a champion as well. The reception and duties which awaited him were memorable and allowed the feeling of being British champion to properly sink in.
“After the funeral I went round doing a lot of radio interviews, TV interviews and seen a lot of family members. I met the King of the Ashanti Kingdom (Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II). I met Azumah Nelson, that was good. Proper legend, he was telling me loads of stories. Gave me advice on boxing and stuff and said if he ever gets the chance to come down, because of Covid and stuff, he would do his best to try and come and support me, so it was nice to hear from him as well. Afterwards I got to settle down a bit. I was hanging out with friends and family that were there and really enjoying my time out there and my break.”
Bentley is no stranger to having his eyes opened when he visits his family. Lives less fortunate experienced by so many Ghanaian citizens but up close and personal he has seen the positive impact that boxing can have on the them. The upsides, however, are quickly reminded by the downsides such as the struggles the fighters have to make money and doing something as simple, which we take for granted, as travelling to a gym.
“There’s loads of boxers, loads of talent but they don’t get the exposure that they need,” Bentley says.
“They don’t get the challenges or the people to back them. It’s difficult for them but they still stick to it.”
Sharing these moments brings Bentley back to the opinion of how fortunate he is and how rewarding the trips to Ghana are for him. He continues to grow as a fighter but as a person too.
“Who am I with the luxury of going to a gym whenever I want. To drive down to a gym, train and hit the bags and then being able to be paid and fight on TV. Who am I to think I’ve cracked it and I can chill? These guys have got nothing. When they’re fighting, no-one sees them. Probably get viewed on television in Ghana but not worldwide. Probably not getting paid the most, probably have to travel far for gyms.
“When I was out there I couldn’t get to a gym and when I did it took me an hour and a half, two hours to get to one. There’s not many boxing gyms out there. It was quite a long way to get to the boxing gym where I was. I can imagine for those that don’t have one nearby they think there’s nothing they can do. For the ones that do get up and go, the dedication they show, without being 100%, it is going to benefit them and it’s doing it out of pure love and dedication. Who am I to sit here and think oh yeah, I’ve cracked it? I’m on BT Sports, I’m headlining… I’ve got to put in that same work, show them that if you work hard, wherever you are you can get there. Like I’ve said a few times, God willing when my career is over, won a few world titles, earned a bit of money I will go back and help inspire them and help real boxing in Ghana if it hasn’t already grown by that time.”
Ghana is a source of love, pride and passion for Bentley. And when it comes down to biting on his gumshield tonight, which at some point he may have to do, it may even act as an inspiration knowing that somewhere another Denzel Bentley is watching, willing him on so that the new generation can be shown a path out of poverty and hardship.
Bentley’s father, as Denzel tells it, is “back and forth” to Ghana and lives there too. During his son’s trip over Christmas he was embarking on something even more inspiring which provided a great deal of help over the festive period to those in need.
“On Boxing Day, he does a bit of charity work for an orphanage and the elderly, giving food and turkeys and stuff,” Bentley explained.
The picture Bentley paints of Ghana at Christmas is one of business as usual. Of course, it is a time to celebrate for many and be with family, but businesses continue to operate unlike the traditional closures in the U.K.
“it’s a different kind of vibe. It’s just very different, the whole atmosphere. Here it’s cold, you’re cosy in the house, family time, food, that’s about it. Nothing’s open. Over there, still family time but everyone’s still busy really. If you have to work, you have to work.”
Bentley goes to work tonight at York Hall in a fight that every boxing fan should make an effort to sit down and watch. The British champion didn’t have a message for Cash when asked. The words were short but still packed a punch.
“I’ll just see him on the 24th. We’ll go at it.”
“At the end of the day the winner stays on and I don’t want to get off this control pad.”
Image: Queensbury Promotions