Michael Bentt, now 53, thought he would never live to see 30. In the new Netflix docu-series, Losers, Bentt recalls his experiences as a top amateur boxer, WBO champion, and actor.
Diving into acting and the arts from the fight world seemed to be a pivot Bentt was destined for.
He’s a natural writer and student of film since he was a youngin. I had the chance to chop it up with Bentt about his experiences as both a fighter and now a creative, something Bentt believes we all are.
“We’re all born creatives.”
Bentt’s Jamaican-born father admired famed-Muhammed Ali and wanted his son would grow to be a boxer of the same magnitude. Unfortunately, for pops, Bentt wasn’t a fan of the sweet science at all.
“I never wanted to be a professional [boxer] in the first place,” Bentt said in the first episode of the series while describing his mindset after beating Tommy Morrison for the WBO Championship in 93’.
Bentt was born in the UK and moved to the Cambria-Heights section of Queens in 1974. His father who insisted Bentt to become a top boxer forced him to start training at an early age.
Four-time Golden Glove Champion, three-time United States Amateur Boxing Champion, and Bronze World Amateur are just a few of the crowns he held.
Bentt flexed so hard as an amateur, it’s hard to believe his head wasn’t in the game, but it really wasn’t. When he tried to voice his dislike for boxing to his father as a kid, his father responded by way of force, which told him one thing. He didn’t have a choice.
Bentt went pro partially to escape his father’s scrutiny.
He recalled moments growing up where his family and friends would talk about success and what it meant to be worthy as a man, “if I don’t have a thousand dollars in my pocket, I’m worthless,” said Bentt.
“Do you know how many times I’ve been in boxing camps or had estrangements with managers and I was flat broke? I didn’t have a thousand dollars in my pocket, I didn’t have two cents in my pocket. How many times I felt dejected and down in the dirt because those things that my father was saying was echoing in my brain? How difficult it was navigating that nonsense? Or how difficult it was to start unbelieving that nonsense?”
As an amateur stud, Bentt faced heavy heat when he got knocked out in his first professional bout against Jerry Jones in 89. In the Netflix doc, he paints a vivid picture of how he was tormented and blacklisted from getting another fight.
Someone even left a nasty note on a parking ticket on his car. From the lack of support and self-hate he acquired, he almost committed suicide, but something told him it wasn’t his time.
With a build-up of emotions and determination to prove the haters wrong, he was able to get a manager and climb back up the ranks. After 10 straight wins, Bentt was offered what came to be the highlight reel fight of his career against “The White Mike Tyson”.
Bentt was looked at as a good warm-up fight for Morrison who was gearing up for a $8 million dollar payday. Bentt came in as the underdog but ended up dropping Morrison three times in the first round, winning the championship via TKO.
It was after his next fight, to Herbie Hide, where he received such severe brain damage, that doctors told him boxing was out of the question for him. “I knew, somewhere deep down, that I didn’t have what it takes to be a heavyweight champion,” Bentt recalled while walking into the Hide fight.
Months after he left the hospital, he enrolled in a local community college, picked up radio and TV majors, and took an acting class as an elective. He was in pursuit of work as a commentator overseas and wanted to learn the essential skills. After his first acting class, he knew he found his new steez. He said,
“I am never doing anything other than this, if I have to starve, if I have to rob a bank or two or three, I’m gonna do this thing for the rest of my life.”
Fighters get a bad rap and are stigmatized as aggressive and unrelatable, but in Bentt’s eyes, they’re honestly some of the kindest people on the planet. Fighting is an emotional rollercoaster, filled with love, hate, doubt and vulnerability that is often only seen by those behind the scenes.
“I come from the fight world, I’m a sensitive human being. Boxers are some of the most sensitive creatures on the planet but we don’t see that. The violence-it’s primal…
“But behind the whole primal venire are the most sensitive, sweet people. Of course, we have these triggers, and when they’re pushed we respond to those triggers. When you’re conditioned to be one thing and one thing only, you only know one thing and one thing only. You respond with one thing and one thing only.”
Bentt found solace in the arts as a kid, after his middle school teacher was amazed by his style of writing. He found himself writing screenplay-esque scenes in a composition notebook amidst the rigorous training schedule forced upon him by his father. He had to constantly dubb what he was passionate about to do something that wasn’t even his dream. If he didn’t, his dad would hurt him.
His life became a twisted cycle Bentt had to unlearn.
“I don’t like the struggles that I experienced, but I appreciate them. Not that I’m giving my father a pat on the back, I’m not. I think my father is damaged, but I survived his damages and I’m able to use his damages in a positive way.”
Being told that he couldn’t box again was immediate relief and tapped into his mindset as a creator and life long student of the arts.
“Honestly, if Michael Bentt doesn’t find the world of acting and the arts, the person who you saw on the Netflix documentary, that’s a completely different person. That person would definitely be a person trying to hide and explain and be appropriate. The person you saw on Netflix, he doesn’t care about being appropriate, he cares about being authentic, and expressing what others can’t express.”
Contrary to what you might think, Bentt sees a lot of parallels with boxing and acting, qualities that have helped him flourish to be the person is his today.
“To me, boxing and acting, they’re kissing cousins essentially, only with acting, you have to be naked and vulnerable and a boxer can’t afford to be naked and vulnerable.”
Bentt went on to write for Bert Sugar’s, Fight Game after the two met at an HBO Press Conference. Writing for the magazine gave Bentt a platform to express what he saw and experienced as an elite amateur and a pro that’s had his elite moments.
The job opened up the conversation about Bentt bringing his creative and combative backgrounds together to act, direct and consult on several major-motion films and theatrical shows, many relative to boxing.
Starring as the famed-Sonny Liston opposite Will Smith in Ali, Bentt also starred in other Hollywood boxing flicks like Girlfight and Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood.
View this post on Instagram
Seems like only yesterday, but in 2001, I was fortunate to help bring to life the story of one of the greatest. I played Sonny Liston alongside @willsmith's Muhammad Ali. I am forever grateful for this opportunity, as well as help from @michaelmannofficial and Ron Shelton along the way.
Being both on camera and behind-the-scenes, helped him fused both a mixture of his talents in a way that finally allowed him to be honest and unbothered, something he couldn’t do as a fighter. Fighters are bred to ooze machismo, be the best at their craft while deflecting any sense of insecurity.
In mass media, combat sports athletes are so closely depicted as being neanderthal-like characters with primal mentalities, but they are so so much more.
“Your opinion of me is not my reality.”
Bentt made acting his priority, putting it at the center of everything he did which naturally led him to learn under mentors like Ron Shelton, Fred Burner, and others. He gives props to his mentors for helping him take experiences from his boxing life to show the many dimensions fighters possess through acting.
“Who can’t relate to being betrayed? That takes place in boxing, in life. Who can’t relate to being overcome by fear, who can’t relate to failure? Those things that I experienced in boxing, I get a chance to express and experiment with as an actor with wonderful directors and actors who believe in me.”
Being a member of the acting community and working alongside names he only dreamed of, proves Bentt’s sentiment that if you really put in the work and commit to what you love, destined opportunities will find their way to you.
“I’m a firm believer that if you put in the energy to commit to studying what you love, at some point on your path, you will meet a mentor who will further augment your experiences and your craft.”
Fighter. Actor. Writer. It’s an understatement to say that Michael Bentt’s journey as a creative is one that we all can take notes from. No matter what your passion is, it’s never too late or too wild to do what you love.
So what are you waiting for?