BATTERSEA box-puncher Denzel Bentley starts his second reign as British middleweight champion with a defence against Marcus Morrison at the York Hall on Friday night. BT Sport televise.

This is a fight that was first mooted a couple of years ago. Queensberry planned to match Bentley with Morrison on the first post-lockdown show, at the BT Sport studios in July, 2020.

Bentley was 12-0 at the time, while Morrison was looking to build on his shock win over former European champion Emanuele Blandamura in Italy.

“I thought the fight was happening and then I ended up fighting Mick Hall instead,” said Bentley, who fights out of the Peacock gym in Epping. “They didn’t see the value in the fight at the time, but he needs this fight now.”

Fast forward two years and Bentley is British champion, while Morrison has lost two of his last four, albeit at a good level.

The 29-year-old Mancunian, though well beaten on points, had his moments in a 10-round points defeat to Chris Eubank Jnr and was blasted out in four when he went up to 168lbs to face Zach Parker in Birmingham last November.

Physically, Morrison looked a match for Parker, but couldn’t take the Derbyshire switch hitter’s body punches and was dropped three times before the finish.

Bentley boxed on the same show, unravelling willing Black Country left-hooker Sam Evans in the third.

That was his first fight since losing in three rounds to Commonwealth champion Felix Cash last April, a loss that ended Bentley’s five-month reign as British champion.

The 27-year-old won the belt back in May, outpointing Luton’s Linus Udofia on a split vote after a battle that’s sure to feature in the domestic Fight of the Year lists in a few months. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 114-115.

Bentley nicked several close rounds by finishing well and clearly won a curious last. Udofia appeared to coast through the final three minutes, as though he felt he was clearly ahead.

In reality, Bentley was up on two cards and would have won more clearly had the referee not missed Udofia’s knee touching the canvas in the eighth after the Londoner cracked him on the chin with a right hand. That is Bentley’s danger punch and responsible for most of his 10 wins inside two rounds.

Bentley is loose around the shoulders, has good reflexes and that right-hand counter is fast, but he sometimes appears to lack ring awareness. He puts himself in dangerous positions and blames that on occasional losses of concentration.

The only blemishes on his 16-1-1 record are a draw with Mark Heffron (though he won the return emphatically), now British and Commonwealth champion up at 168lbs, and the loss to Cash, who was huge at the weight and went on to force a stoppage after buzzing Bentley early.

Morrison has had an up-and-down career. He was well beaten by Jason Welborn in what was supposed by a breakthrough fight, then shocked by Tyan Booth and Alistair Warren. Then, when it appeared the Joe Gallagher-trained Morrison was going nowhere, he pulled off a career-best win over former European champion Blandamura.

The Italian was surely up after seven rounds before Morrison hurt him in the eighth and unravelled him in the next.

That was the best we’ve seen from Morrison in a 25-5 pro career that started in 2014.

Gallagher says Morrison has “acquitted himself well on the big stage,” including against Eubank last May. Every time Eubank looked to jump through the gears and force the stoppage, Morrison went with him.

There was a good exchange in the last when Eubank went for the exclamation-mark finish and shipped a left hook that made him give ground. But Morrison won two rounds on all three cards. 

Bentley says that given Morrison’s recent form, he’s “lucky” to get this shot at the British title. He added Morrison “has had some good wins, he’s got a name and he tries all the time, doesn’t really back down and go into his shell.”

We agree that Morrison will push Bentley, but don’t fancy him to dethrone the champion. We go for Bentley on points.

The undercard is standard ticket-seller/prospect versus journeyman fare, though the promising Ellis Zorro, 14-0 (6), will look to build on winning May’s Boxxer cruiserweight tournament when he takes on the sturdy, and always ambitious, Dec Spelman, 18-5 (9), over eight. Zorro is the pick to win on points.

THE VERDICT: Morrison not deserving of shot but he’ll no doubt give his all.