Francisco Leal dies of brain injury

Updated: October 23, 2013, 10:08 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Junior featherweight Francisco "Frankie" Leal, who suffered an eighth-round knockout loss Saturday night to Raul Hirales in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, died Tuesday from a brain injury suffered in the bout. He was 26.

Leal faced Mexican countryman Hirales on the Omar Chavez-Joachim Alcine undercard in a fight televised across Mexico and on Azteca America in the United States. Hirales dominated the fight and knocked Leal down in the sixth round with a clean right hand. Then, in the final moments of the eighth round, Hirales connected with another clean right hand to the head, and Leal went down again. He initially beat the referee's count but immediately collapsed, and the fight was waved off with 10 seconds left in the round.

Leal, nicknamed "Little Soldier," was immediately surrounded by medical personnel. He was taken from the ring on a stretcher and slipped into a coma. He was admitted to a hospital in Cabo San Lucas but later was transferred to San Diego, where he died.

"This hurts a lot," said promoter Fernando Beltran of Zanfer Promotions, which put on the card. "We knew that Frankie Leal was a good kid, a great fighter, a warrior in and out of the ring. As a company we took responsibility and tried to save his life as much as humanly possible. Now we are united in the grief felt by his family and his boxing family. We will try to help, whatever is needed."

Some have questioned whether Leal (20-8-3, 13 KOs), a professional fighter since 2005, should have still been fighting after the brutal knockout he suffered in March 2012. Russia's Evgeny Gradovich, who went on to win a featherweight world title, knocked him out in the 10th round of a fight in San Antonio, after which Leal was taken from the ring on a stretcher and hospitalized. Leal recovered and fought five more times, going 3-2.

"It hurts that this happened," Beltran said. "Our prayers are with his family. We knew that Leal was a fine young man. We will try our best to support his family in this difficult time."

In 2009, Leal fought for a junior featherweight world title in his hometown of Mexicali but got knocked down in the first round and stopped in the eighth round by then-unified titleholder Celestino Caballero of Panama.

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