He had to know. He had to climb in the ring and give it a shot against Vincent Pettway. He now knows, Eddie Van Kirk does, and at least there's a certain satisfaction in that.
"Hey, I knew Vince was good. Two years ago, I thought he was going to be a world champ," said Van Kirk, moments after losing his state welterweight title last night at the Arena. "First time I've ever been knocked out . . . and I'm not ashamed of it."
Probably just as bad as the punches a beaten fighter absorbs during a bout is the task he faces afterward, talking about what transpired. Except in this case, Van Kirk's problem was eased considerably by the fact he recalled only about half the fight.
The first two rounds resembled a goal line stand, Van Kirk rushing in headfirst, Pettway getting in a left hand and the two falling into a clinch and resembling a pretzel as referee Larry Barrett tugged on gloves, shoulders and arms to separate them.
"His plan was to bully me to the ropes," said Pettway, "and he was doing a good job of it. I knew I had to keep things out in the center of the ring."
"My game plan was working," noted Van Kirk, who had his best round in the third when he landed a few good right hands from in close. "But then I stopped it."
Correction: Pettway stopped it. Vincent started shooting out stiff jabs to halt Eddie's bull-like rushes. He then stepped back for punching room and, bam, here came the right hand, rarely missing.
It was early in the fourth round when Pettway recalled the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and he launched a right measuring no more than 15 inches distance and duration. "He threw a wide right and mine was straight and got there much sooner," said the victor.
"Whatever he hit me with was real good; it put me on 'queer street,' " said Van Kirk. "I don't remember anything after that."
Perhaps it was for the best because it got ugly. Pettway knocked his rival down a second time in that round and opened up a cut over Van Kirk's left eye.
Pettway was cooking now, first stopping Eddie with a elbow-snapping jab, then crossing a right. Van Kirk was down again in the fifth and he was leaking blood from a cut on his left cheek. He wasn't about to take a backward step or consider surrendering, however.
Mercifully, it ended 54 seconds into the sixth round. At dead center of the small 16 X 16-foot ring, Van Kirk threw his last wide right. Pettway countered with his quick straight right. Start counting, referee, and stop when you get to 10.
"I started out doing to him what he was doing to me, and it didn't make much sense, the wrestling was tiring me out," said Pettway. "I started moving around when we were on the ropes, spinning him and that got me free. The jab started to keep him at bay."
Van Kirk became a sitting duck for a right hand, for as Pettway's braintrust Mack Lewis reminded, "the best counter to any punch is the exact same punch." In a duel of right hands, Van Kirk's was a local, Pettway's strictly express. And, as Vince pointed out, "Eddie's never been hit by a full-fledged welterweight before." He has now.
The cut over Van Kirk's eye required five stitches and it will take a while for the bumps and bruises to go away. But he gave the impression he wouldn't have missed this shelling for the world: "We don't hate each other, Vince and me, I went along with it [the 'bad blood' promotion]and got a payday. Isn't that what this business is all about?"
While Van Kirk goes on vacation (suspension), Pettway moves ahead to 30-5 (with 27 knockouts) and in his future figures to be Victor Davis. They fought last year in Philadelphia, Davis winning a wild one, but he's on the shelf right now recovering from an eye injury.
The 2,389 in attendance at the Arena had things to both cheer and jeer about on the undercard. Victories by Jason Waller, Lou Benson, John Bizzarro and Eric Elliott over Scott Jones, Ric Lainhart, Sam Hunter and Cliff Wise were hard earned and justified. David Izegwire's 85-second stroll past Wayne McClanan was another matter.
Izegwire was just about to load up on his punches when McClanan picked out a left hook to his ribs, genuflected and indicated he had had enough. "The guy's a better fighter than that and would have done better if he didn't go swimming last night," assured promoter Don Elbaum. This was a reference to the 36-year-old lifeguard from Virginia Beach leaping to the rescue Sunday night of a Dundalk woman who either fell or jumped into the Inner Harbor.
In his pro debut, "Irish" Carson McCourry outbrawled Jeff Schmude and registered a third-round TKO. No sooner was he out of the ring when he was back in training, inviting all in attendance to join him at a victory celebration at a bar in Pasadena.