Slowly but surely, the world is beginning to turn again and people are adjusting to the differences and inconveniences that contribute to ‘the new normal’.
Those who make their living from boxing are hoping that the current state of affairs is much more temporary. Officials, fighters, promoters and trainers are all making the best of a bad lot but are desperate to revert back to old habits as quickly as possible. Fans, however, might just have had the way they view the sport changed forever.
Viewers who would usually spend their Saturday evenings glued to whichever channel was showing live fights have instead spent the past few months idly flicking between YouTube, boxsets and docu-soaps about lunatics and their pet tigers. Rather than settling back in to the familiar but sanitised boxing coverage – complete with apologies for bad language and mandatory Sweet Caroline sing-along – the unplugged, studio-based version is providing audiences with an extra, unexpected dose of reality television.
“Some people might like it. It might be too much for others. When you hear a good body shot you’re gonna hear the ‘Hnnng’ and when a good head shot lands people will hear the thud. I hope they like it anyway,” laughed Denzel Bentley (12-0, 10 KOs) who will have the latest episode of his career beamed into people’s homes this weekend when he meets Preston’s Mick Hall.
“A lot of the brutality in boxing is hidden. With everything that’s going on around an arena and all of the music you don’t really get to hear what’s going on in the ring. All these little special effects that the fighters know all about about, the fans are finally going to be able to experience. We hear it every day but when the public hear a fighter getting tired and breathing hard or can hear that the snap has gone out of a fighter’s punches, it’s gonna become very real to them.
“All of the guys that want to do it [box] for the limelight and who want to do a little public workout and slap it on their insta, now that that limelight isn’t there are they still going to do it with the same energy and same passion? Those that really want to do it and become something, this will benefit them.”
The name Denzel Bentley is beginning to crop up more and more regularly in conversations but it took a while for him to get used to hearing it himself. The 25-year-old middleweight is actually called Denzel Ntim Mensah, but a mix up at his licensing interview led to his middle name being mistaken for his surname. Once he’d boxed using the licence, it was too late to change it. On the South London estate they grew up on, nobody could mistake the Ntim Mensah brothers.
As teenagers, Denzel and his brother bought a pair of boxing gloves from a market and would invite anybody who fancied it to glove up and whale away. Any limelight replaced by the dim glow from the street lights and flat windows which overlooked the football cage they used as one of their temporary rings.
He may not have had the faintest idea what he was doing but the excitement and competition filled a hole which opened up when he stopped playing high level football and he eventually began to take the sport more seriously. Over the years, Ray Ball at the Fisher ABC and Martin Bowers at the Peacock Gym have knocked off the rough edges and put some method behind the madness. The result is Denzel Bentley, the heavy-handed alter ego of the enthusiastic, aggressive Denzel Ntim Mensah.
“I’m the same guy really. I’ve always been a guy to come forward but since I started boxing properly I’ve learned to be a bit slicker,” he said. “I was a footballer so my agility was kind of there and I naturally became a slick boxer. I don’t think that anybody knows I can box. If they’ve only seen me on YouTube, I don’t blame them but anybody who’s seen me in the gym knows I can be slick.
“I was not slick back then. I got straight in there at 100mph and threw so many shots. We’d put the gloves on and get stuck in. Nobody knew anything about boxing until we started watching it more closely and watching people like Floyd Mayweather and Adrien Broner. You look at people like that and think that if you box you make money. You start doing it and realise that isn’t it at all. I loved it anyway. We’d do a round or two max and swing it out. As we got better we’d do three one minute rounds because we weren’t fit.”
Bentley is still holding open the door to that football cage. Anybody who wants to pull on the gloves and swing it out is welcome but he has found that finding a fight is a touch more complicated than it was back in his days on the block.
The power of intimidation is undoubtedly a useful tool in boxing but it is only really one which can be put to use once contracts have been signed. The menacing way he has been dispatching his opponents might be beginning to make fans sit up and take notice but it has undoubtedly made his rivals on the domestic scene think twice about taking him on until the prize and pay cheque on offer are more appealing.
“The attitude I have where I will fight anybody makes people think twice. They wonder why I’m so confident,” he said.
“You always get fighters going on about how they’ll fight anybody and this and that. ‘Any place, anywhere, anyhow,’ or whatever they say. When it actually comes down to it, I’ve asked for every single one of those guys and it hasn’t been able to happen. Somebody’s lying.
“I’m not trying to be intimidating, I’m just trying to get the job done. I’m not turning up with a Mike Tyson attitude or anything. It’s the actions and the way I put people away. It’s annoying because people aren’t willing to fight me because they wonder what they gain from it at the moment. In reality, it could do them a load of good. I think I’m ranked quite high so if you beat me it shoots you to another level.
“I need to back what I’ve been saying about myself. I do feel like I’m at British level but without the names to go with it on my resume, that doesn’t mean anything.”
Bentley faces Mick Hall (15-2, 2 KOs) live on BT Sport 1 from 7.15pm on Saturday July 25.
Main image: Steven Paston/Press Association.