FORMER world middleweight title challenger Denzel Bentley is urging those who carry a knife to put their weapon down and try working out with Steel Warriors, an anti-knife crime charity.

Steel Warriors uses the steel melted down from confiscated knives to create outdoor gyms like the one in Langdon Park, Poplar which Bentley recently visited. The 29-year-old returns to the boxing ring on Saturday night (May 11) against Danny Dignum at York Hall. In between his preparation, he spent time with Steel Warriors’ Head of Marketing and Community, Christian d’Ippolito, at the gym where he learned calisthenics and showed attendees how to shadowbox.

This week, Bentley spoke to Boxing News about his visit and why he is working with Steel Warriors.

“It’s a good cause. It’s something I’d like to get involved with. Growing up where I grew up, knife crime was a big problem [and] still is a big problem.

“I thought I could show my face and attach myself to that community or reach out to the wider public where people wouldn’t see it. I’d never heard of it before and neither had a lot of people around me. Since that clip and a few of the videos came out a lot of people around me have seen it, which also brings attention and maybe they can spread the word about what Steel Warriors are doing, and this is what they’re working on.”

“Nowadays, fitness is a big thing, but gyms aren’t free. Steel Warriors is,” he continued.

“It’s a place to work out, keep busy and have fun or try new tricks with what they’re doing with the bars and learning about your body. There’s no age limit, it’s a place for everyone. A lot of gyms are open 24 hours, and you have to be 18-plus to join. A lot of these kids aren’t, but they can go out to the park, one of these areas and start working out and looking after themselves.”

Growing up in Battersea’s Patmore Estate, Bentley knows the devastation that knife crime can bring to an area. The former British middleweight champion told BN that as a teenager, he knew that he could easily have become a victim as well.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends to knife crime,” he said.

“A lot of my friends have been stabbed and survived. A lot of my friends have been stabbed and haven’t survived. At one point in my life, when I was a teenager, I felt like I was going to be a victim. When I reached a certain age, I was like, okay, I’m 16 now… I’m 18 now, but I can still get stabbed. I’ve got to watch where I go and be mindful of who I’m crossing paths with and who I’m rubbing shoulders with. Some people are bad company, but you wouldn’t know.

“You might be running around with a friend who had problems outside school you didn’t know [about it]. You’ve gone to meet him in his area. People he had problems with run up on you, and you get caught in a crossfire. It’s as simple as that, and that’s the case for a lot of people. Not everyone that gets stabbed is guilty of doing anything.

Bentley with some of those who attended Steel Warriors at Langdon Park, Poplar

“What saved me was boxing. I found a boxing gym so I spent most of my time there. We didn’t have any of these outside gyms. Back then it was hard to find gyms [because] they were all under archways. Steel Warriors are out in the park. You could be walking through the park and see them and think, I could have a go on that. Before you know it, there’s people teaching you to do things. No one’s hogging it, everyone’s friendly, and everyone’s willing to bounce off each other. It builds a little community and then you’re up there for hours and hours. It’s good for interaction.”

In the year ending March 2023 there were 50,500 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales*. That was an increase of more than 2,000 offences on the previous year and an increase of more than 6,000 offences in the year ending March 2021.

Bentley has seen some of the parks he used to play at as a youth being torn down. A number of football cages are suffering the same fate, and Bentley says that kids need somewhere safe to go and something positive to do to burn off all their energy.

“The aim is to get kids activities. Burn them out. They have their fun, have their time out and then go home and chill and get ready for dinner, bed, homework or whatever. When they’re outside, you don’t want them getting up to no good.”

Bentley also had a message for those who are carrying knives to protect themselves or with the intent to hurt someone.

“You don’t need them. Just put the knives down because nine times out of 10 knives are there to hurt people.

“No one wants to hurt someone or take a life. The consequences are crazy. Someone loses their life, then the person who did that goes to prison, and they lose their life. They’re sitting there for years and regretting it. Don’t live a life in regret. Put the knives down.

“It’s difficult to find the words. I’m not oblivious to it all or ignorant. I get it but you need to make better lifestyle choices. If you feel like you need to carry a knife, try and get away from that environment. Ask yourself, why do I need this? You’re obviously in an environment that isn’t safe. Try and find an establishment like a boxing gym, Steel Warriors or whatever it may be or move out of the area if you’re able to, and try and get out of the situation you are in. Try not to carry knives because it destroys lives. It’s yours and the person that you hurt.”

*Source: commonslibrary.parliament.uk*