CHICAGO – The boxing community here is mourning the death of Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez, 25, who died over the weekend due to repeated blows to the head after a brutal boxing match in Philadelphia.

Rodriguez, known as “El Niño Azteca,” the Aztec Kid, came from a family of accomplished boxers. His father was a professional boxer in Mexico and the U.S.

Rodriguez had already won local acclaim, earning a national Golden Gloves championship at age 17, five local titles and a spot in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials.

He had a devoted following in the Mexican community here and his entourage often came into the ring in sombreros to the music of Mexican banda.

Friday night, Rodriguez had lost to Teon Kennedy in a brutal battle for the USBA super bantamweight title. It was Rodriguez’s first for a championship and his first outside Chicago.

Rodriguez was nearly knocked out in the first round but he came back to hurt Kennedy. The fight remained competitive until the referee stopped it in the 10th.

His brother and father were in his corner.

He staggered in the first round but when he reached the corner he said everything was okay, they said. But after the fight was called Rodriguez said he felt sleepy and sick. His body went limp and he fell into a coma. He showed no brain activity until Sunday when doctors decided to remove him from life support.

Rodriguez is survived by his wife Sonia and his 5-month-old daughter Ginette. His organs were donated to five people, including a cousin of his mother, who will get a kidney.

Boxing is one of mankind’s oldest sports where fighters who often come from low-income backgrounds see the industry as a way out and a solution to financially support their families.

In boxing there’s a well-known phrase: “Enter At Your Own Risk.” It’s a violent sport where an athlete’s success is almost directly proportional to the damage he/she inflicts on their opponent, and vice versa.

But in truth, behind all the glory of boxing, lies danger and uncertainty. What happened to Rodriguez is an all too common occurrence that families of boxers dread to even think about. It’s a dark reality that every boxer faces, a threat that lurks around every ring at every match.

Some feel boxing injuries are just part of the game and comes with the territory.

Yet others note there are numerous cases in which a boxer has died in the ring or shortly after a fight as a result of injuries sustained during the bout.

Well remembered ring deaths include: Leavander Johnson who fought Jesus Chavez in Las Vegas in 2005 and died five days later after he was knocked out; Jimmy Doyle who was fatally knocked out by Sugar Ray Robinson in 1947; Duk-Koo Kim, the Korean lightweight who vowed to “kill or be killed” by Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in 1982 (both the referee who officiated the match and Kim’s mother committed suicide as a result); Benny Paret in 1962; Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos in 1963; Randie Carver in 1999; and female boxer Becky Zerlentes who in 2005 was knocked out in the third round by Heather Schmitz, fell unconscious and never woke up. There are many others.

As of December 2006, more than 1,300 boxers have died as a result of fighting injuries.

And it’s even harder to count how many fighters whose lives have changed as a result of brain damage or deterioration from boxing. Most notably there’s Muhammad Ali, one of the sports all-time greats who currently suffers from Parkinson’s disease that many say is due to too many repeated blows to the head. Then there is Manny Pacquiao’s coach and “master” Freddie Roach who also suffers from the same disease.

Boxing as a sport is considered so dangerous by medical organizations around the world that bodies like the British Medical Association, the American Medical Association and Australian Medical Association have all called for it to be banned.

The dangerous effects caused by boxing were first noted in 1928 in an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Punch Drunk.” Pathologist Harrison Martland said symptoms such as slowed movement, verbal hesitancy and tremors were common among boxers.

Then, as now, the underlying science was simple: The more the skull is shaken like Jell-O in a bowl, the greater the likelihood of a neurodegenerative disorder that would come to be called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

In boxing the punishment to the brain is so much greater than in any other sport, and none except American football can compare, critics charge.

Boxing is a multibillion operation and the industry continues to profit and promote one the world’s most violent sports at the expense of peoples lives, critics say. Over time the industry has failed to recognize the dark truth behind the sports life and death consequences and it should be stopped altogether, they add.