Baltimorean boxed as pro for 13 years

The Baltimore Sun

Eddie VanKirk settled scores with his fists as he grew up on the tough streets of Southwest Baltimore. He went on to box professionally for 13 years as a welterweight and confidently took on competitors.

Mr. VanKirk died Sunday at the University of Maryland Medical Center of complications from an infection. He was 45.

The circumstances of his death mirrored the ups and downs in his life. He was recuperating from a gunshot wound that he suffered in November last year during a home invasion in the 300 block of Parrish St. Police said the gunman demanded money and drugs. He shot Mr. VanKirk in the stomach during a struggle that began in the house and ended outside.

Family members said Mr. VanKirk was undergoing physical therapy when he developed the infection that killed him.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Pigtown and Westport, he was known as Speedy VanKirk to his neighborhood friends. He was a 1981 graduate of Southwestern High School, where he played football.

"He was a scarecrow quarterback before he caught the boxing bug," said a 1984 Sun article. "He soon gained a reputation as a clever amateur boxer, winning 32 of 38 bouts."

Family members said he was inspired by his grandfather, Robert Franklin VanKirk, a Carr-Lowery glassmaker who boxed in the Navy during World War II. His first trainer was a family friend who instructed him in a Westport garage.

"He was the oldest of us four brothers, Eddie, Van, Rob and Ray," said his brother, Robert "Bubba" VanKirk Jr. of Petersburg, W.Va. "He was outgoing and rough. We were like the Mark Wahlberg movie, Four Brothers. It was an everyday thing that we fought among ourselves. But out of the family, if you messed with one of us, you messed with all four of us."

As a young man, Mr. VanKirk worked for the city Department of Public Works and on the Locust Point docks, where he loaded and unloaded cargo.

He made his professional boxing debut in 1982 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Baltimore and later boxed at Steelworkers Hall, the 5th Regiment and Pikesville armories and in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J. He was classified as a welterweight, meaning he weighed in the 140s.

"He was a brawler and a tough fighter," said Raymond H. Leonard Jr., a past president of the Veteran Boxing Association, Ring 101. "He didn't fear anyone and often boxed top-rated fighters."

The Web site, BoxRec, says his professional record included 27 wins, nine losses, two draws and 13 knockouts.

Mr. VanKirk last fought professionally in 1995.

"As a fighter, he was tenacious," said Vincent Pettway, a former world welterweight champion who defeated him in 1991 at what was then the Baltimore Arena. "Eddie gave his all. We were friends out of the ring."

Family members recalled that Mr. VanKirk developed a following.

"The whole neighborhood would come out to see him," his brother said. "He lived a big life around Baltimore. People from Canton, Greektown, Highlandtown and all the way to Lansdowne in Baltimore County loved him. He was their guy."

Family members said that over the years, Mr. VanKirk often settled personal scores with his fists. He had a police record for street brawling in Little Italy and in South Baltimore near the Cross Street Market. He later violated his probation and wound up serving time in prison. He spent nearly four years in a Hagerstown correctional facility.

"There was a time VanKirk was considered as much a hell raiser out of the ring as in it. Recently married, he's settled down and taken his training regimen more seriously," the 1984 Sun article said.

In addition to Mr. Pettway, Mr. VanKirk fought Hector Camacho and Vinny Pazienza.

"He was a nice person, but if you got on his bad side, watch out," said Robert VanKirk. "He had a lot of ups and downs in his life."

Services will be held at 8 p.m. today at Charles L. Stevens Funeral Home, 1501 Fort Ave.

In addition to his brother, survivors include two sons, Eddie VanKirk Jr. of Baltimore and Nicholas VanKirk of Florida; two daughters, Jennifer VanKirk and Ashley VanKirk, both of Baltimore; his mother, Letha VanKirk of Randallstown; and two additional brothers, Terry "Van VanKirk" Enos of Matthews, N.C., and Raymond VanKirk Sr. of Hampton, Va. His marriages to Duella Clark and Melody Perry ended in divorce.

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