Daniella Smith was no stranger to confronting danger in the boxing ring during her illustrious career.

But nothing she faced in the ring comes close to the threat to her safety when she came to the aid of a friend being threatened by a man holding a sharp knife in her face.

Kaikohe's Smith - who in 2010 became the International Boxing Federation's first women's world champion - has spoken of the incident as she takes a stand against domestic violence.

The 45-year-old, who is staging a charity fight night raising funds for Women's Refuge, has opened up on her attempts to intervene in the incident.


"I grabbed the knife, and I do remember thinking [having an important bout] the following weekend, I can't get my hands all cut up," Smith said.

Although the nightmarish incident was more than a decade ago, Smith said she still recalls it vividly. "I was freaking out, I was scared for her, I was scared for me."

She was visiting when her friend's boyfriend turned up at her house and started accusing the friend "of all sorts of stupid things".

The pair went into another room and "voices were starting to raise".

"At one point [I] got scared, and thought, 'I'm going to leave'. And then I stood outside her door, and I'm like, 'I can't go, I can't leave her'."

Smith stood between the pair as the situation escalated, trying to calm the man down. They ended up in the kitchen, where he had her friend against a bench with a knife "in line with her face" about 30cm away, she said.

"I was like, "Oh no!' And I grabbed the knife."

Smith implored him to give her the knife. He surrendered the knife, and an interruption from outside allowed Smith and her friend to flee, she said.

Sheltering at a park, watching "happy families" walk past, they "made a promise to each other to never let anyone take away our spirit".

Her friend went to counselling organised through Women's Refuge, the relationship with her boyfriend ended, and she resumed a successful life, Smith said.

Smith said the harrowing incident reinforced to her that women need to know "that there is a way out ... they can leave".

Help was available, Smith said, including through Women's Refuge.

"There's all these programmes they've got," Smith said. "We need more of them - there's just not enough money."

Smith is running the Diamonds in the Ring charity fight night to raise funds for Women's Refuge. The event, which she intends to make an annual fundraiser, is on September 8 at the Auckland Boxing Association.

About 60 would-be contestants, men and women aged 17 to 49, are in two teams - Bleed Blue and Red Squad - for a 14-week training regime leading into the event.

Each team has set up a Givealittle page, to raise funds to establish two scholarships - tertiary, trade or university - for residents or ex-residents of Women's Refuge homes.

Women's Refuge is the umbrella organisation for 38 refuges around New Zealand. Last year more than 40,000 women and children were referred to Women's Refuge - which answers more than 200 crisis calls every day. More than half its workforce are volunteers.

On average, it provides 165 women and children with a safe place to sleep every night.

Smith is coaching Bleed Blue at City Boxing, Mt Eden. The Red Squad is training out of the David Tua Health and Fitness gym in Onehunga, and is being trained by boxing coach Eli Reupena, with the assistance of former professional world heavyweight title contender Tua.

Reupena said it was a big boost to his team that "they have a legend in their corner".

Smith said the fighters had a variety of reasons for taking part, including knowing victims of domestic violence.

One sentiment expressed was: "To fight for the women and children who can't fight back."

Smith said people who question the choice of boxing as a fundraiser for Women's Refuge should know people are choosing to fight. "They're taking on a 14-week disciplined training camp, with two very strong role models leading from the front.

"David and I have both fought for world titles. We know it's not violence, it is a sport, it is a discipline. It is one of the most powerful tools I've ever come across to empower people to bring out their potential. I think I'm a testament of that."