Van Kirk, Pettway take page from old neighborhood book

John Steadman

March 01, 1991|By John Steadman

Selling tickets to boxing matches on the basis of neighborhood rivalries and ethnic identities won't play any more. Good common sense, or maybe it was sophistication, scored a knockout. And how about a grudge match? Another staple of the past

But now the old scenarios are being revived. Come Monday night, Eddie Van Kirk, a warrior from Westport, will take on Vincent Pettway, who is from Lower Govans, in a main event for the welterweight championship of Baltimore. You can even make it all of Maryland if there's a compulsion to stretch the geographical boundaries.

Where boxers were raised and whether they drive trucks or nails, or work for bars or the bar association, doesn't make much difference. Forget, too, where they live and if they happen to abhor each other. Can they box?

Van Kirk, who may have had more managers than the Gabor Girls had husbands, is a brawling, on-the-attack kind of fighter. Pettway offers occasional power, exacting mechanics and maneuverability, all characteristics of Mack Lewis-trained boxers.

The best chance for Van Kirk is to score early and often. Try to put him away. Pettway is a point-maker, prepared physically to go the distance but his chin is suspect.

A contrast in styles generally makes for -- but doesn't always guarantee -- a worthy confrontation. That will be dictated by how much leather Van Kirk and Pettway throw and if one or the other is getting in the way. Promoter Don Elbaum would like to think he has a brawl on his hands but, again, there's no gilt-edge assurance.

"It's a real honest-to-goodness grudge match," is what he says. "There's no love lost between them. Maybe it's the kind of a fight we can build on to bring the game back and put it on more of a continuing basis."

Any good promotion needs a "hook" to create interest so Elbaum endeavoring to exploit Westport (Van Kirk) vs. Lower Govans (Pettway). But that old street-corner refrain takes us back to a time when neighborhood pride was based on something so dubious as boasts of "our fighter can beat your fighter."

Buddy Ey, an investigator in the office of the State's Attorney, knows more in-depth history of Baltimore boxing than any man alive. He remembers some of those mighty neighborhood and ethnic rivalries of yesteryear. Grudge matches, too.

"No question that's how it used to be," he said. "Where the fighters lived often reflected at the box office. Remember Irish Billy Carrigan of Canton and Charley Chaney of Fells Point? Or how about Johnny Shkor of Sparrows Point and Johnny Kapovich of Fells Point? It was the battle of the Points. Shkor scored a four-round knockout back in about 1940.

"Pete Galiano and Bucky Taylor, one Italian, the other Jewish, fought four times, the last one for the state and Southern lightweight titles. That happened all the time back then, maybe over 40, 50 years ago."

Baltimore was once regarded among the most active boxing centers of the country, with two and sometimes three pro cards a week. They even had "market fighters," who were billed out of Lexington Market, Hollins Market, Belair Market or any other market for that matter. The markets were in the neighborhoods where they lived.

Most of the ethnic bouts were between Italians, Irishmen and Jews and their national origins were used to sell the bout to the public.

Now it's exceedingly doubtful if spectators are going to get worked into a froth over Westport fighting Lower Govans.

Still Van Kirk and Pettway are going to give it a try. As an old Lower Govans boy, we'll be on that side of the ring.

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