Boxing / Israeli Hagar Finer to Defend Her Belt Tonight in Tel Aviv

Amid frantic photographers, mystified shopkeepers and blaring music at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center, Hagar Finer stepped on the scales yesterday ahead of her world bantamweight title defense against Agnese Boza.

Finer, who will step into the ring tonight at the Nokia Center, weighed in at 51.5 kilograms, good enough for the WIBF under-53.5 kilogram class. Her Latvian opponent, however, was over the limit at 56.5 kilos. "It's hard to understand - in Latvia she was 54.5 kilos, and you're supposed to lose weight after a flight," said Dominique Junge, the German inspector representing the WIBF. "In the current situation, even if she wins, the title will remain with Finer."

Boza did not give a clear answer about how she expects to drop three kilos in less than 36 hours.

Finer, sporting a silver Star-of-David chain, a light-blue shirt and freshly braided hair, shot a fighting look at Boza with her green eyes. The Latvian is a replacement for the Israeli's original opponent, American Stephanie Dobbs, who suffered an eye injury.

As a girl of 13, Finer took up martial arts as a way to defend herself. She quickly became the Israeli karate champion for her age group. When she was 17, her coach Raanan Tal told Finer - who had to seek out boys to find sparring partners - that boxing was the way to develop further.

She soon received invitations for prestigious competitions abroad and won time and again - except for world title bouts.

"There are always ups and down," Finer, 25, says to describe her career so far. "Every day I have to ask myself why I'm doing this, if it's worth it or if I want to go on. It isn't always easy and not all fun. On the contrary, I lost seven title bouts."

In August 2008, a fracture was discovered in her eye socket, which damaged a nerve in her face. "Half my face fell asleep," she recalls. "I was sidelined for a year. I didn't know if I could go on training and if I'd return to boxing."

Last October, she got an opportunity she says she couldn't pass up - a shot at the bantamweight title against Ukrainian Oksana Romanova. She passed a medical exam that ruled out the chance of irreversible damage to her face and went to face Romanova. "In the middle of the bout she got tired and started to go wild," says Finer. "Her head opened up in the sixth round and she couldn't go on." The judges stopped the fight and awarded Finer the belt on points.

"At that moment I couldn't digest that I was world champion," she recalled yesterday. "It seems to me that only tomorrow will I really understand what it means and how great it is."

Finer says that to win tonight she will have to overcome an opponent who is squatter and more muscular. "I'll have to go with tactics, to neutralize her and not go head-to-head, which is her strong point," she said. "My advantage is speed."

While determined to win, Finer insists that boxing is not her career but a hobby. "What's come of it is wonderful, but my career goal is to be a trainer. I plan to study, and I hope to open my own martial-arts club."