A week on: Denzel Bentley’s stock rises after spirited title fight showing vs. Janibek Alimkhanuly

Denzel Bentley and Janibek Alimkhanuly exchange punches during their WBO middleweight championship fight at Palms Casino Resort on November 12, 2022...

He was underestimated pre-fight, a significant underdog and didn’t do himself many favours through four rounds last Saturday night in Las Vegas. But after an encouraging R5, Battersea’s Denzel Bentley steadied the ship and battled through a series of hard-hitting exchanges that would’ve demoralised most, to frustrate WBO middleweight champion Janibek Alimkhanuly, during a second-half sequence which has many critics suggesting the Kazakh is overrated.

Janibek joy, before jostled into firefight with bullish Bentley

Janibek Alimkhanuly celebrates after defeating Denzel Bentley, during their WBO middleweight championship fight at Palms Casino Resort on November...
Janibek poses after making the first defence of his WBO middleweight championship last weekend

116-112, 116-112, 118-110: Janibek Alimkhanuly bt. Denzel Bentley via UD

  • Alimkhanuly improves to 13-0 as a pro, vows to take out other world champions in 2023 amid speculation surrounding matchup against compatriot and future Hall of Fame champion Gennadiy Golovkin, who still holds two world titles at 160lbs
  • Buddy McGirt, the Kazakh’s trainer, praises Bentley for his effort and admits this encounter will serve as a “good lesson” for the world champion, who was guilty of looking for a one-punch finish early before loosening up and executing as asked
  • “Disappointed but I didn’t shock myself, maybe it’s harsh but I let myself down… wanted to come out [of the US] world champion but we go back to the gym, will continue my quest to do that,” Bentley tells ESPN’s Mark Kriegel in post-fight interview

Although he didn’t shy away from being disappointed in his display, Denzel Bentley set new career-highs in power punches thrown and landed in a fight – against a world champion – and his showing in the later rounds did more than enough to justify he belongs above domestic level.

This encounter showed that, if he cleans up defensive deficiencies and starts quickly from minute one in future, who knows? Immediately from the first few seconds, you could tell it was going to be important for Bentley to stop Alimkhanuly from utilising forward momentum.

That would get the champion into a smooth rhythm, while Bentley also couldn’t hesitate to throw his punches or spend too long downloading data as is increasingly stated these days.

Janibek began on the front foot, holding centre ring and popping the jab as Bentley relinquished position, instead attempting to counterpunch his way into earning some respect from a champion who publicly dismissed him pre-fight.

Bentley’s task was harder than it looked, especially as he appeared to struggle with his distance management and instead needed to ease his way into range.

Janibek’s lethal left hand landed all night and R1 was no exception.

Denzel Bentley and Janibek Alimkhanuly exchange punches during their WBO middleweight championship fight at Palms Casino Resort on November 12, 2022...
Janibek smurks as he sizing up Bentley in the early rounds, as he could sense a KO which didn’t come

In terms of negative body language, those familiar with Denzel’s earlier work could already see shades of his R4 knockout loss by Felix Cash last April.

Perhaps that’s the main reason Janibek was roundly criticised post-fight, an inability to stop a challenger whose defensive holes were there for all to see and instead engaging big shots with him as the rounds continued and both tired.

But more on that later. Bentley was a credible challenger, albeit one with a quick turnaround after earning a R4 KO win over Marcus Morrison in early September.

Richie Woodhall called for a tempo change from the Brit in R2, identifying the current pace was merely playing into the champion’s hands. He needed to move more laterally and make it harder for Janibek to pin him down in one spot.

That didn’t happen soon enough. Janibek’s success intensified in rounds three and four as his confidence grew, landing a series of lefts to push Bentley back with good timing.

Bentley was frozen in his tracks momentarily by two looping lefts in the fourth, landed a big right-hand of his own before getting caught seconds later. That typified a frustrating start from a neutral perspective, but things would start changing to make for more compelling viewing.

Around the two-minute mark in R2, Bentley started displaying the skill earning him this WBO title shot in the first instance. He landed a left and unloaded a few combos as Janibek stood there, almost welcoming the barrage in the pocket.

It was a fleeting sequence but one which created seeds of doubt for the heavy favourite, and conversely, encouragement from Bentley’s corner during his best round thus far.

He needed to inject more urgency though, as it finally seemed like the 27-year-old accepted he’d inevitably absorb damage if he was going to stand much chance of landing his own attacks, but his head movement and ringcraft was a step slow with Janibek still landing the bigger punches.

In the sixth, commentators said Janibek had supposedly slowed his workrate – round-by-round punch stats show the opposite – but by R7 it was clear Bentley wasn’t going to get blown away.

He’d taken some of the Kazakh’s best punches and, after an uncomfortable start, was gradually growing in self-belief. Bentley began the eighth aggressively, popping the jab and fighting fire-with-fire in the pocket.

Not to be outdone, Janibek defiantly held his ground as the pair landed good shots, though it was clear the challenger’s inability to follow up his better punches with more forward pressure hurt his chances of overturning the scorecards as the hard work wasn’t frequently consolidated.

Promisingly, Bentley began the ninth like he did R8 – rocking Janibek backwards with some good combos and finally digging shots to the body too.

They had intense exchanges up close, the Brit landing the better scoring shots as the champion made sure he wasn’t getting outworked firing back in good time. A clear round for the Brit, where was this five or six rounds prior?

“You need to dig deep, he’s panicking,” said the Bentley corner after that round.

Into the tenth they went and Janibek was visibly picking his punches more carefully, pushing Bentley back as the left hand connected well again.

Bentley tried to clinch and make it a more physical tussle, but the champion was wise to those efforts, swiveling him around and landing some big punches in the meantime.

Bentley had the better of their exchanges in the pocket, before Janibek again weathered the storm to fire back after the Brit connected with some uppercuts and improved counterpunching in another back-and-forth round. This clip alone speaks for itself:

If not obvious by the last few paragraphs already, Janibek found himself drawn into a firefight. That slugfest-style suited the challenger much better than their early exchanges, but he was also tiring himself with higher punch output without consistently landing the cleaner work.

Punches landed/thrown, via CompuBox
Bentley in round 7: 13/54 — Janibek had 19/41

R8: 19/58 — 22/49
R9: 21/67 — 22/56
R10: 20/63 — 17/50
R11: 25/77 (32.5%, only round besides R1 with a better connect rate) — 15/51
R12: 17/65 — 27/56

In the final round, Janibek started quickly and landed another nasty left as he threatened a stoppage. Bentley was on wobbly legs as the champion chained his attacks together beautifully:

He stalked his prey, popping the jab with Bentley backed up against the ropes. To his credit though, Denzel recovered to land his own shots in the final half-minute, body-head combos pushing the champion off him as they both unloaded in the final few seconds.

Janibek banked the bulk of the early rounds, was up 60-54 on my scorecard through six before losing four of the next five – a lot of them close rounds.

He won the 12th, and 116-112 feels fair all things considered.

Alimkhanuly landed 28 more punches – despite Bentley throwing 80 more total – and while harder than many imagined, Janibek also set career-bests (punches thrown, landed, jabs, power punches) against an opponent who refused to wilt under increasing pressure.

Many expected Bentley to be stopped within eight. He went a full 12 and acquitted himself well – even better than welterweight contender Michael McKinson managed back in August against a rising star in Vergil Ortiz Jr. British boxers often don’t get the respect they deserve overseas.

“The plan was to see what he has in the first couple rounds, see what I can take, a couple on the gloves.

Don’t rush into your work because he’s waiting for me to rush in to counter me, then pick up the pace in the middle to late rounds, I think that’s what I done.”

— Bentley on his strategy, a well-intentioned one but it simply started too late against a world champion who had an ever-growing lead on the scorecards

Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via BT Sport broadcast

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