Francisco Leal (left) is hit with a right hand from Evgeny Gradovich during thier fight in March 2012. Leal was stopped in the final round of a brutal fight, which some boxing insiders believe should have been the end of his boxing career. Leal fought on and died on Tuesday from brain injuries sustained in a KO loss on Saturday.
Former junior featherweight title challenger Francisco “Frankie” Frankie Leal passed away in a San Diego hospital Tuesday evening, three days after falling into a coma following his eighth-round knockout to Raul Hirales in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He was 26.
Leal, a native of Mexicali, Mexico, who would have turned 27 on Friday, was a solid fighter, a tenacious fringe contender/gatekeeper who outpointed then-undefeated (19-0) prospect Robert Marroquin by 10-round split decision in 2011. He challenged Celestino Caballero for the WBA and IBF 122-pound titles in 2009, losing by stoppage after the eighth round.
Leal was in the ring with an equally tough and determined foe in Hirales, a friend of his who also hails from the Baja California Sur area. Leal and his more polished opponent fought in close, trading body-head combinations for five physical and competitive rounds with Hirales, the busier and stronger fighter, usually getting the better of the exchanges. Leal was dropped by a right hand a minute into the sixth round, but the rugged southpaw did what he had always done when hurt or dropped in past fights, he got up and he let his hands go.
At the end of the eighth, a concentrated body attack hurt and backed Leal into a corner where Hirales appeared to land two clubbing right hands to the back of his head that sent him sprawling to the canvas in the final seconds of the round. Leal got up at the count of seven but then slumped face first into the turnbuckle. The referee waved the fight off but Leal, who was seated against the turnbuckle, remained unresponsive to the referee and his trainer, unable to get up or even hold his head up. He was taken out of the ring on a stretcher and admitted to a hospital in Cabo San Lucas before being transfered to a hospital in San Diego.
Could the tragedy of Leal, who died with a 20-8-3 record, with 13 knockouts, been avoided? Some boxing insiders believe so.
They contend that Leal should not have been allowed to continue boxing after suffering a knockout last March to current IBF featherweight titleholder Evgeny Gradovich in the 10th and final round of a brutal fight that took place in San Antonio, Texas.
Bruce Trampler, the lead matchmaker for Top Rank, which co-promoted the San Antonio card, Tweeted that he was not surprised to learn of Leal’s death.
“This is so wrong. I thought Leal was going to die the night he fought Gradovich, but he kept going and going until this. RIP,” Trampler Tweeted, according to Fightnews.com.
“Frankie Leal death no surprise after Gradovich sent him to hospital in 2012. Kept seeking fights – trainer should have retired him. Sad.
“But it didn’t have to happen. Leal went to hospital in Texas and we had tears in eyes because we didn’t think he would make it.”
Leal was immediately hospitalized after being stopped by Gradovich, who was 12-0 at the time. He was conscious and responding to questions after the fight, but remained in the hospital for at least a few days.
However, Leal resumed his boxing career in January of this year and fought a total of five times — all in Mexico — after the Gradovich bout, including an eight-round split-decision loss to Cesar Juarez, who had a record of 13-3, with 12 KOs.
Three-division titleholder Abner Mares Tweeted a message for fans to pray for Leal following the knockout to Hirales. Mares, a friend of both Leal and Hirales going back their amateur days in Mexico, was at the San Diego hospital with Leal’s family for most of the day on Tuesday.
“I just literally got home,” Mares told RingTV.com on Tuesday. “I just got back from the hospital. It’s really hard for myself, and for his family. This is a very hard time. It’s a tough time for everyone. All that you can say is that why do the good guys go… but his family was right behind him. It’s sad, but his family understood that as a boxer, that’s what you can go through. He comes from a boxing family.
“Raul Hirales, he’s a good friend of mine. I just talked to Raul, as a matter of fact. Obviously, he’s really hurt about this. We all grew up within the same facility in Mexico, (the same) dorms. We were all on the same Olympic team [2004.] So it’s hard, you know? It’s hard for the two of them to have had to fight each other, and it’s hard for their families.
“They were friends. We’ve all known each other since 2002 and for many years after that. So Raul is really, really hurting over this, and today is a sad day for boxing. It lets you know that boxing’s not just any job. We risk our lives every time that we go up into that ring. It’s a tragic day for boxing, and for us and his family,” continued Mares, who said that he will dedicate his next fight to Leal’s memory and to the fallen fighter’s family.
“It’s sad that his birthday is coming up, and it’s this Friday. He was going to be 27. Just pray for the family, that they can get through this tough moment. God be with them. I’ll never forget how strong a fighter Frankie Leal is. That’s why they called him ‘The Little Soldier.’
“My next fight will be for the family. I’m just praying for the family, and they’ll need the prayers and understanding of the fans.”
A donation can be made to Leal’s family through this link: http://www.gofundme.com/4w3r0c
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank