It is twelve months - almost to the day - since Denzel Bentley walked to the ring in Las Vegas to challenge Janibek Alimkhanuly for the WBO middleweight championship of the world. Bentley didn’t leave Sin City with a world title belt but he did come home with the confidence and self belief that he belongs at the highest level.

Bentley (18-2-1, 15 KO’s) has spent the past year pining for a return to the world stage. Instead, he must make do with another defence of his British middleweight title.

The Londoner puts his Lonsdale belt on the line against Nathan Heaney in Manchester on Saturday but far from looking past the popular Stoke fighter, Bentley is is fully aware that taking his eye off the ball now would destroy his future plans. He is determined to use the night as a showcase and produce such an eye catching performance that he can leave the British domestic scene behind for good.

“This is his dream. No matter how it goes it’ll be the best version of him and the most prepared version of him that anyone has seen. How am I gonna deal with that? I can’t overlook him. I can’t listen to people saying it’s an easy fight. I can’t think I don’t wanna hurt him because he’s a nice guy. I have to make myself wanna hurt him because he’s trying to take food off my plate,” Bentley said.

Lots of fighters will look you dead in the eye and insist they don’t look at BoxRec. They’re probably lying. Bentley isn’t one of those. “They’ve got me ranked somewhere mad. I don’t know how they work out the points.” he said.

What he does see when he looks at the middleweight rankings is a division ready to be taken by the scruff of the neck. Chris Eubank Jnr and Liam Smith are currently rated as the number one and two middleweights in the world, both fighters Bentley would have absolutely no hesitation in facing if the chance was offered. 

“Oh, 100%,” Bentley told “100%. Both of them. I’m frustrated that I’m in the position where I’m not more of a public figure. I don’t want that - I just think being famous is a bit long and I just wanna fight - but if I had a bit of a name publicly then these guys would fight me. I wanna fight them but they aren’t happening because my profile isn’t big enough. They’re at the part of their career where they just wanna earn the most money.

“I’d beat the two of them. There’s nothing that really impressed me about their second fight [in September, Eubank stopped Smith and gained revenge after being stopped by the Liverpudlian in January] apart from Eubank coming back after a bad loss. As a fan, I was impressed. As a fighter, I didn’t think ‘He’s too good.’ No, I’d beat the both of them.”

Bentley has managed only 45 seconds of action since the decision defeat to Janibek. He took Keiran Smith apart in frightening fashion in a British title defence in April. The dangerous Kazakh has fought twice over the past twelve months. He stopped Stephen Butler in two rounds in May and just last month he unified the 160lb division, beating down a hesitant Vincenzo Gaultieri and snatching his IBF belt. The way Gaultieri surrendered his title only confirmed to Bentley that he has nothing to fear from the best in the middleweight division. Heaney finds himself as the only thing standing between Bentley and an all out assault on the biggest names operating at 160lbs.

“It was nonsense. Gualtieri let himself down there. What can I say though?” Bentley said.

“If I had one choice and it could come to life ASAP, it would be the Janibek rematch. That’s who I want most. Other than that, I would love [Erislandy] Lara. I think he’s fighting Danny Garcia but I don’t know what’s going on with that. I’d love [Jermall] Charlo. Janibek is the one who’s active though. He’s the one who’s seen as the best in the division. If I beat him then I’m number one.

“I’ve asked for [Maciej] Sulecki. Carlos Adames. I would love to fight Adames. That would be a sick fight. Other fighters look at guys and think it might be a bit dangerous. I’m the total opposite. 

“Any name you can think of, tell them I’m calling them out. Chris Eubank Jnr, Liam Smith, Janibek, Charlo, Lara, just say I said it.”