By Marco Bratusch at ringside
A controversial unanimous decision gave the vacant European Union (EU) light-heavyweight belt to local fighter Orial Kolaj (19-5, 12 KOs), who went the full 12-round distance against Spaniard Mustafa Chadlioui (11-3-2, 7 KOs) in the main event of a Round Zero promoted boxing night in Rome, Italy. The fight staged at Palazzetto dello Sport followed basically the same pattern during the first nine rounds. Kolaj his back stiff and his hands kept constantly low, put on steady but clumsy pressure from the center of the ring. Chadlioui remained relaxed, slipped Kolaj’s predictable punches and countered hard with both hands, landing crisp, solid hooks that Kolaj incredibly absorbed all night, although wobbling on many occasions.
In the final seconds of round six, seven and eight, Kolaj was one punch away from being stopped by the referee Jean Robert Laine, who in one occasion seemed to “save” him warning Chadlioui not to use his elbow from the inside. Eventually, the away boxer started to fatigue after so much landing flush on a stubborn, durable opponent who until this stage provided very little answers in terms of telling punches, and for that reason the fight became more balanced going into round ten. To describe them more properly, last three rounds seemed as though they came out of a Rocky movie, with Kolaj badly bruised on his face finding new energies and growing confidence grasping that his foe was running out of gas and he – now – was even missing sometimes.
Two clashes of heads marked both fighters’ faces again in round twelve. Chadlioui chose to remain in the pocket until the final bell instead of controlling his utterly conceivable lead, with him and Kolaj throwing non-stop leather with no defense at all, staggering off balance around the ring, both falling through the ropes and barely out of the ring in a never-ending final round. It was a sort of see-saw, LeRoy Murphy vs Chisanda Mutti kind of fight at this point, with both men looking to close matters with a decisive blow while still recovering from the previous punch.
Completing an incredible crescendo, the contest was resulting a thriller, certain Fight of the Year candidate not only for Italy but possibly for Europe, when the three scorecards made the bout memorable as a definitive robbery of the year winner: 116-112, 116-112 and 115-114, all in favor of Kolaj, a verdict that overshadowed the same outstanding Kolaj’s performance in terms of heart and determination. Both fighters headed to the local hospital after the contest, but the wrong man gained the belt tonight as Mustafa Chadlioui won at least ten of the scheduled twelve championship rounds.