Keith Sullivan: A Fighter’s Best Friend

By Robert Mladinich on December 15, 2011
Keith Sullivan: A Fighter’s Best Friend
“I used to watch Tyson’s fights over and over, and I loved how he was all business.”

“It sent a very clear message to commissions everywhere that fighters are human beings, not just pawns for profit, and they cannot be used and abused…”

Although New York attorney Keith Sullivan has had a longtime affinity for boxing, he views his current involvement with the sport more as a calling than a vocation. Not only does he serve as pro bono legal counsel for the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), the Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8 New York, and the lauded Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, he has helped scores of boxers with managerial and other issues.

Sullivan is perhaps best known for his landmark victory for former junior lightweight champion Joey Gamache, who charged the New York State Athletic Commission with negligence for failing to properly carry out its duties and responsibilities while conducting the weigh-in for his ill-fated 2000 fight with Arturo Gatti at Madison Square Garden. 

Gatti exceeded the pre-set weight limit of 141 lbs. on the scales and was 20 lbs. heavier on fight night. He savagely stopped Gamache in the second round and Gamache never fought again.

“What happened in that fight was disgraceful,” said Sullivan, who will be honored by Ring 8 at their annual holiday party on Sunday, Dec. 18, for his steadfast commitment to the sport. “The court decision took 10 years, but it sent a very clear message to commissions everywhere that fighters are human beings, not just pawns for profit, and they cannot be used and abused.”

As a youngest of four children born to Thomas Sullivan, a retired NYPD detective sergeant, and his wife Denise, a schoolteacher, Sullivan remembers having trouble sleeping at night until his father came home from his tour of duty in Brooklyn. He would silently listen to his father recount the day’s events with his mother, and despite just being in the fourth or fifth grade Sullivan deduced that an arrest was only the beginning of a long, complex and very interesting legal process. 

Even at such a formative age, he was fascinated by what would happen next as the case wound its way through the labyrinthine criminal justice system. Had shows like “Law and Order” been around in the early 1980s, Sullivan would have been a devoted viewer.

Sullivan, who will turn 39 in late December, was equally fascinated with the emergence of Mike Tyson, as the erstwhile baddest man on the planet rampaged through opponents a quarter of a century ago.

“As a young fan everything about Tyson fascinated me,” said Sullivan, whose love affair with boxing and boxers has not waned, even though he has witnessed to the good, bad and ugly as attorney and adviser to such championship caliber fighters and contenders as Gamache, Andy Lee, and others.

“I used to watch Tyson’s fights over and over, and I loved how he was all business. There was no ring walk, he wore no robe and there was no booming music. He would just walk to the ring like a warrior going to battle. There was no big production. His production began after the bell rang. It was thrilling for me, and I marveled at his seriousness.”

Sullivan does admit, however, that as he grew older his fascination with Tyson waned a bit. “Many things I came to learn about him disappointed me,” he explained. “But it was a great lesson for me to pick my heroes and role models more selectively.” 

Sullivan tries to go about his legal business, where he concentrates on personal injury, criminal defense and commercial litigation, with the same no-nonsense approach that Tyson brought to his business in the ring. 

“Boxers have a short professional life so it is important that they maximize their potential in a relatively short time,” said Sullivan. “There are a lot of people in the game that don’t have their best interests at heart. Besides being imparted with a tremendous work ethic by my parents, I also developed a great empathy for others that I am able to use in my role as an attorney.”

Sullivan’s full immersion into the sweet science came after the most tragic of circumstances. A roommate of his, a police officer who had a shared passion for boxing, committed suicide several years ago. Prior to the roommate’s death, he and Sullivan had spent countless hours talking about boxing, as well as their plans to eventually take lessons at the fabled Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.

After his friend’s death, Sullivan made his way to Gleason’s, where he encountered a kindly old school trainer and retired state corrections officer named Bob Jackson.

“Bob asked me why I was there, and two hours later I was still talking and he was still listening,” recalled Sullivan. “I was also crying like a baby. That day Bob became like an uncle to me, and I soon realized that Bob was like an uncle to a lot of people. He ran the boxing program at Sing Sing prison for many years, and he was instrumental in the development of Dewey Bozella, who just turned pro after serving almost 30 years for a murder he did not commit. Paroled prisoners would come to see Bob, and he always treated them with respect and kindness.” 

Through Jackson, Sullivan realized that people begin boxing for more than the obvious reasons. “He opened my eyes a lot faster than they might have been opened on my own,” Sullivan said. “Kids take up boxing not only to learn how to throw punches, but to learn how to be men.”

Knowing that Sullivan was an attorney, Jackson sometimes asked him to look at some contracts or help out a youngster who might have gotten jammed up with the cops. He began assisting Joey Gamache after one of Gamache’s lawyers killed himself, and through Gamache he was introduced to Andy Lee.

While researching the Gamache case, Sullivan approached Teddy Atlas who he believed could provide valuable background information. He recalls meeting Atlas outside of Gleason’s Gym on a cold wintry day. Atlas was very receptive, and after a long talk told Sullivan he would call him back soon.

Because Atlas was traveling he did not call back for two weeks, but they soon joined forces on a number of projects. Besides the assistance Atlas offered in preparing the Gamache case, he and Sullivan work tirelessly on the Atlas Foundation. They have worked together to open several gyms around the city called Cops and Kids, after the Police Athletic League, citing safety and budgetary concerns, discontinued its once lauded boxing program.

“Soon after we met Teddy told me that he had a good sense of me,” said Sullivan. “I certainly had a good sense of him, and I am extremely proud that we have gained each other’s trust and have such a strong bond. He is a very unique individual, and his foundation does a tremendous amount of good work without any fanfare whatsoever.” 

Sullivan also has a deep affinity for the old-timers who make Ring 8 the venerable institution that it is. Fighters like Henry Wallitsch, Bobby Bartels, the late Joe Miceli and scores of others form a tremendous link between the most divergent of boxing eras.

Sullivan is honored to assist the organization in any way he can, and is humbled to be in the company of such boxers, many of whose names are forgotten but whose legacies live on in the hearts and minds of aficionados like Sullivan.

“Back in the 1950s, guys like Henry Wallitsch were the heart and soul of boxing,” said Sullivan. “I am humbled to be in their presence, and I am proud to represent such a fine organization whose motto since its inception in 1954 has been ‘Boxers helping Boxers.’”

In addition to his boxing duties, Sullivan, through his firm Sullivan and Galleshaw, LLP, with partner James Galleshaw, has raised $30,000 for the U.S. War Veterans Wounded Warrior Project, founded a promotional and event company, Cocktails 4 Charities, that donates 100 percent of its proceeds to charity.

He continues to represent Merit Matters, a NYC Fire Department (FDNY) civic organization that is appealing a federal court ruling that has abolished merit-based hiring, and recently did pro bono work for Sgt. Dakota Meyer, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who was unable to take a recent FDNY exam because he was busy fighting for his country.

“The amount of work Keith does for others is astounding,” said Jack Hirsch, the BWAA President. “I feel guilty because I count on him so much, and I could never do as much for him as he does for me and many other people.

“He does it all with a genuine humility. Even when talking about the law, he never makes it seem like he knows more than you. He respects everyone, and he always has your back. Having Keith as a friend is knowing you always have a lifeline, no matter how bad things might get.”

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  1. Charles Norkus Jr 07:54pm, 12/18/2011

    Thanks Robert for a nice piece on Keith Sullivan. As a Ring 8 member, I see Keith at the monthly meetings, and he is a hard working attorney who can explain the law intricasies, the boxers and us fans alike using layman terms for us to understand, in solving some of the complexities of matchmaking and decision arguments in todays boxing life. He also answers any question’s we might have on any law subject, and he is a pleasure to be around. It was Great to see him get this well deserved award today from Ring 8. Good job on capturing his spirit.

  2. pugknows 02:24pm, 12/16/2011

    Very enjoyable. Thanks, Bob

  3. the thresher 06:44pm, 12/15/2011

    Ring 8 New York is like Ring 4 of Boston except 8 is bigger

  4. the thresher 06:37pm, 12/15/2011

    Re: Jenny Lyn Watson, I wonder if that case would have gotten the same notoriety had she’d been a person of color?

  5. the thresher 06:26pm, 12/15/2011

    Gamache KO hard to watch. Scary.

  6. the thresher 06:13pm, 12/15/2011

    Super read Bob. Great NEW info. Thanks.

    By the way folks, speaking of a superb read, Bob has wriiten a great book on the Long Island sertial killer and butcher, Joel Rifkin.

    From the Mouth of the Monster
    By Robert Mladinich
    Simon & Schuster

    Some day, Bob and I will have a serial Killer Off.

  7. mikecasey 03:39pm, 12/15/2011

    I really enjoyed this, Robert. Keith’s description of the young Tyson is spot on. I still think Mike could have been so much greater if he hadn’t lost his ‘A’ team and then lost his way. So easy to be smart after the event - but the original Iron Mike was devastating. I just don’t think he wanted to fight any more after Douglas - and possibly before that.