Rough looking Osmo “Osku” Kanerva is one of the icons of the Finnish community in Florida. Despite not necessarily famous for the public, Kanerva is one of the biggest names in Finnish boxing. Olympic bronze from Tokio and a long international career without knock-out defeats tell their own story of the success.
Kanerva´s career as an athlete, after a brief slump colored by alcohol and excessive partying, was followed by still on-going career as a boxing reporter and a coach. He has met the stars of the boxing rings starting from Muhammed Ali.
Strength is not enough
Osku Kanerva is turning 70 this December, but is still coaching young boxers and instructs fittness boxing classes in Florida.
During the summers he returns to Finland and pays often a reminiscing visit to his home boxing club Tapanilan Erä. As a young man Kanerva was active in decathlon and ski jumping and played football. The family moved close to a boxing hall and Kanerva got interested in the sport. The club was the best in Finland those days.
Later, when Kanerva was in the national team, there were four men and a coach from the local team.
– There were some strong weight lifters at the hall, but I noticed that they were not much of boxers. Just a strength is not enough, one has to have eye for the game, rapidity and reach. Boxing is a lot about brains, Kanerva says.
1966 the year of trophys
Kanerva´s career was on a fast track in the 1960s. Three times he was the Finnish champion in 63,5 kilogram division. He also won awards and was selected as the Boxer of the year in Finland.
– Those days boxing was really popular in Finland, and we would have thousands and thousand of people in the audience. Unfortunately the interest has gone down from those days.
Tunisia-Finland championship fight was arranged during the state visit of president Urho Kekkonen. Kanerva then beat the first African champion from Tunisia.
– After the match, Kekkonen invited us for a dinner. He got well along with us athletes.
In 1966 Kanerva started professional career. The biggest achievement was when he fought gracefully against English champion Bobby Arthur, later world champion. Many would have named Kanerva as the winner. He also trained in the same hall with champion Sonny Liston.
– He was a strong fellow, and always friendly. He never underestimated the weaker fighters.
Move to journalism
At some point Kanerva noticed he had a problem with alcohol.
– Thankfully I realized in time and I stopped drinking altogether at the age of 28, he tells without any hesitation.
Kanerva did not give up boxing, though. He started working as a boxing specialist to Finnish newspapers.
His career as a reporter has continued the past 20 years on radio, as a host of Finnish Window program aired in Florida. On air, Kanerva tells about upcoming events, plays Finnish music and interviews people.
Being a reporter took Kanerva 48 times to Las Vegas, the centre of boxing entertainment. He has seen the toughest fights, for example the one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden in 1973.
– He is a happy and positive person. All that bragging and boasting was just a show and an intent to scare the opponent, Kanerva describes Ali.
Equality in the rink
How about the dangers of the boxing sport?
– Well, boxing has definately not made anyone smarter than they were. But the idea is rather to defend all the punches, Kanerva says and tells that during his fighting years they did not wear head guards.
At his best, Kanerva was on top shape. For warm up, he would do 200 push-ups in a row, just like that.
Few big scrap books tell the story of Kanerva´s boxing career. In the style of the 1960s, news article tells how a white man beat a black one.
– We did not have any conflicts between boxers outside the rinks. We were all one big happy boxing family.
– Next big Finnish boxing star is going to be Robert Helenius, the veteran of the rinks foresees.