Forgotten world champion

Australia’s Reuben “Kid” Ruenalf was a 7-times world champion in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and yet today he’s never spoken of. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Ruenalf claimed the world record for ball-punching seven times which in itself is a world’s best. He came from a family of ball-punchers. His brother made an unsuccessful attempt on the world record. His father was a famous ball-puncher, boxer and footballer, and his mother was regarded as the best female ball-puncher in the world.

Ruenalf first won the championship in 1924 from American J. Mack when he punched for 48 consecutive hours. He held the title until Frenchman Gene Pierrott claimed it the following year.

Ruenalf won it again with 72 hours in 1926 but lost it to Tom Greenhill from New South Wales in 1928. The pair then traded the title until in 1938 the Canadian Les Persse increased the time.  Ruenalf regained the crown with 96 hours and 57 minutes but lost it to the Canadian again that same year.

World champion Kid Ruenalf

In 1939 Ruenalf punched the ball for 108 hours and 17 minutes at the Ipswich Trades Hall to again win the title. This was in Ipswich, Queensland, where most of his world championship feats occurred. But then Tex Cobourne from Memphis, Tennessee, broke the record. Ruenalf made another attempt that same year with 113 hour and 16 minutes to beat Tex’s time.

The American stepped up and in 1941 got the title back. A month later Ruenalf regained the world championship by punching the ball continuously for an incredible 122 hours and 8 minutes.

The event went for so long that it started in the Brisbane Stadium – which later became Festival Hall – and finished in Brisbane’s City Hall five days later.

Brisbane Stadium the home of boxing

Incredibly Ruenalf’s hands showed absolutely no sign of wear and tear. “And I’ll tell you why,” Ruenalf’s trainer Sandy Moore said confidentially. “I pickled Reuben’s hands for eight days before… I bathed them in brine, water, and vinegar and that fixed them.”

Ruenalf was possibly born in a boxing tent in Melbourne in 1904. For a time he attended Ross Island State School in Townsville. For much of his glory years he lived in Ipswich, where his wife’s family were from, and kept his world championship belt there.

His life away from the ring was equally fascinating. Ruenalf was cycling home when he was hospitalised after colliding with a dog. He was again hospitalised when he got his hand caught in a motor spring and lost the top of his middle finger. He was thrown off the top of a ladder when he cut a live wire. In 1940 he was working at the short-lived Luna Park at Bowen Hills in Brisbane, when he shot and wounded an intruder.

In 1941 Ruenalf enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force for the Second World War, but only after some difficulty because he didn’t know what name to enlist under. That’s because he didn’t have a birth certificate. He’d got married under what was apparently his father’s name “Brown” so tried that, he then tried his mother’s possible maiden name “Mitchell”, but finally settled on the name “Ruenalf” which was the made-up one he’d been using all along anyway.

You see, that name came from his father George who was himself a famous boxer. George had been billed as “The Maori” although he probably wasn’t from New Zealand at all, it was thought he might have been part-Hawaiian. But no one knew for sure either his name or nationality. It was all a total mystery even to his family.

George had taken the name “Ruenalf” because it was the name spelt backwards of the red-hot favourite of the 1894 Melbourne Cup. In Broken Hill in 1907, George had fought Bill Lang for the Australian heavyweight boxing championship, but was disqualified in the third round when he started kicking Lang, and then punching and kicking the trainers, which of course resulted in an all-in brawl.

Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander

So even though Ipswich’s Reuben “Kid” Ruenalf was 7-times world champion, from a family of famous boxers, and for a time a household name, he remains seemingly forgotten today. After his punching career was over he moved around Brisbane including the suburbs of South Brisbane, Highgate Hill, and Carina. He passed away in 1974 at Wynnum and is buried at Hemmant under the innocuous name “Reuben Brown”.

Even the Guinness World Records don’t seem to recognise him because they show the longest speedball marathon as being only 44 hours and 45 minutes by Joey Motsay of Greensboro, North Carolina.

But I’m already onto the Guinness people to see what we can do for our “Kid” Ruenalf.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO.

Photo credits:
Kid Ruenalf – Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander November 30 1938.
Ruenalf to punch for 107 hours – Sunday Mail, Brisbane, 4th December 1938, page 35.
People milling around the entrance of the Brisbane Stadium c1925 – State Library of Queensland.

9 comments

  1. Another world champion you never hear mentioned today is Jack Medica. I found a photo of him with Sandgate swimmer Bill Fleming and followed up. Jack Medica, an American, held every world record in swimming from one hundred yards to a mile, a feat unbelieveable today.

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  2. Wowww. How do you gather all this info ? Let’s know how you get on with the Records .Sent from the Samsung tablet lovingly given by Harold, Jacqueline, Harold, and Murray

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  3. Hello Shirley, Nice to see that you are still interested in sport. I met Harolds former partner in Boonah recently and swapped some great memories.
    Phil Jackson (Formerly from Ipswich Basketball)

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  4. Hello Shirley, Great to see that you are still interested in sport. Recently I met Harolds former business partner in Boonah. We had a good time remembering old times. Phil Jackson (formerly with Ipswich Basketball)

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  5. I was also at the Trades Hall in Ipswich in the late 1950s when Ron Ruenalf broke the world Ball Punching record. I would assume that He would have been related . He was supposed to break the record about 11pm and because a new record was established elsewhere on the night He had to go until about 2am to finally get the new record.. I did stay and had to sneak in on my return home as I was only about 14years at the time.
    Phil Jackson

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  6. Hello Harold, It has certainly been a long time since the old basketball days. Even longer since that night at the Trades Hall. I would have found out about through the Queensland Times. As far as I can recall I would say that there would have been only about thirty or forty there and once they got the news about the new record a few more would have left. I couldn’t drag myself away and stayed until the record was broken by Ron Ruenalf. Unfortunately Harold, that is about all that I can recall. I am quite sure that there was photos in the Q T at the time

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