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Denzel Bentley boxed with his brother on a Battersea estate before falling in love with the sport and going to become a British champion.
The Londoner puts his middleweight belt on the line against Commonwealth title holder Felix Cash tomorrow night at York Hall.
It is an exciting clash between a late comer to the sport but much improved Bentley and a man with impressive amateur pedigree behind him in Cash.
Bentley, 26, was football mad as a kid and he would spend most of his free time playing five-a-side games.
That was until his brother Hayden took a trip to nearby Nine Elms Market and brought back a load of boxing gloves and headguards to the Patmore Estate in Battersea.
“They were cheap ones,” said Bentley. “But we didn't even know what we were doing at first.
“I was about 15 at the time.
“That is literally how I got introduced into boxing. I never watched boxing as a kid, I was never interested in it. I was more of a football kind of guy.
“We all just started fighting each other and then it grew, people started calling people out.
“We would just fight and people watching would pick who won.
“There was no ref, the spectators were the refs. If someone was holding, the crowd would break them up.
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“It became a big thing in the area, you would call someone out and spend a couple of weeks getting ready for the fight.
“We would find a spot, usually one of the football cages and it would be on.”
The three-round scraps with minute-long rounds would soon make Bentley consider joining a real gym when he went to college at 17.
The coaches at Fisher ABC took on Bentley and showed him how to box properly before he had 17 amateur bouts.
He turned pro in 2017 and had been slowly but surely making his way through the ranks with 14 wins a draw but he is one of the few fighters who have really benefited from the pandemic.
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Martin Bowers-trained Bentley took a chance against Mark Heffron behind closed doors last year and after a draw in their first bout they were handed the British title for the rematch.
This time '2 Sharp' came out on top and clinched the Lonsdale belt.
Bentley's parents hail from Ghana and when he made his annual visit to the African country after his win over Heffron he got a hero's welcome.
That included a meeting with two-weight world champion Azumah Nelson.
“Ghana was crazy, that was mad,” he said. “That was one of the best things that happened in my life.
“When I came back, my dad made sure everyone knew and my mum made sure everyone she knew knew.
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“I met the king of the Ashanti Kingdom, met the legendary Azumah Nelson.
“I know they are all behind me. I'm fighting for two nations.”
Now he wants to bring the Commonwealth belt back if he beats Cash this weekend and, one day, a world title.
Bentley added: “I'm ready to take all these types of fights that are 50/50 or that people think I'm in too deep to prove to people what I believe in myself – that I can be a world champion.”
- Frank Warren
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