Vincent Pettway renewed his boxing life at the Baltimore Arena last night, dropping Eddie Van Kirk four times and claiming the Maryland welterweight title with a knockout at 54 seconds of the sixth round.
Pettway (31-4-1), who had been stopped in his two previous fights and dropped from the world ratings, matched Van Kirk's roughhouse tactics in the first three rounds and quickly turned the fight in his favor by flooring his Baltimore rival with a right cross in the fourth.
"We spent weeks in the gym practicing to counter with the same punch Eddie throws," Pettway said. "He threw a wide right, and I got there first with a right of my own."
Van Kirk, whose courage has never been questioned, survived another knockdown in the fourth when Pettway landed a left-right combination. He was dropped again in the fifth when he was nailed by a chopping right.
By then, Van Kirk was bleeding from the left eye and left cheekbone, and his fighting spirit was quickly draining out of him.
The fourth and final knockdown was as much from Van Kirk's exhaustion as Pettway's power. This time, referee Larry Barrett did not bother to count.
This was vintage Pettway, when the stylish boxer-puncher used his ring skills to climb to No. 6 in the International Boxing Federation rankings before losing to Victor Davis and Stefan Johnson.
"I wanted to get my career on the upswing again," he said, after claiming the winner's share of $7,500, compared to Van Kirk's $5,000 purse. The match grossed $56,000.
"People were writing me off, and Eddie did a lot of rapping before the fight about what he was going to do me. But he's never been hit by a legitimate welterweight before."
Van Kirk (22-7-1) tried to nullify Pettway's jab and superior power by using mauling tactics to fight his way inside, leading with his head, billy-goat fashion. But for every rough tactic he employed, Pettway replied in kind, constantly spinning Van Kirk on the ropes or tossing him to the floor. The crowd of 1,529 voiced displeasure with the repeated wrestling and clinching.
But once Pettway began to score effectively with his jab and find punching room in mid-ring, Van Kirk's options were severely limited.
"Eddie takes too much punishment to land a punch of his own," said cornerman Bobby Brown.
Van Kirk, who needed at least a dozen stitches to close his gashed eye, claimed all the pre-fight baiting was just hype.
"I really like Vincent, and I know he's a good fighter," Van Kirk said. "I just took advantage of the grudge talk to make money. Isn't that what this is all about? Hey, I'm not ashamed. I gave it my best."
Van Kirk was originally booked to fight Victor Davis, but a detached retina forced Davis to pull out. It proved to matchmaker Don Elbaum's advantage, with the natural Baltimore rivalry drawing more of a crowd.
In the most exciting fight of the undercard, Baltimore cruiserweight Lou Benson got off the floor in the third round and stopped Ric Lainhart of Virginia Beach at 2 minutes, 26 seconds of the fourth round.
Lanky cruiserweight Jason Waller (8-1-1) of Stafford, Va., won a lively six-round slugfest with Scott Jones (2-1) of Baltimore.
In the opening four-rounder, Eric Elliott (2-1) of Hyattsville wore down Cliff Wise (0-3) of Laurel with his persistent attack to win a majority decision in their fast-paced junior middleweight bout.
Light-heavyweight "Irish" Carson McCourry, displaying the brawling style that earned him a reputation in Baltimore-area bars, made a successful pro debut by stopping Jeff Schmude (0-3) of Erie, Pa.
McCourry shook Schmude repeatedly with looping right hands and wide hooks to the body before referee Terry Moore stopped the one-sided bout at 1:59 of the second round.