Australian pro boxer and priest, 61-year-old Father Dave Smith.
Father Dave Smith is fighting for a better future, in and out of the ring. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • boxing

Father Dave the fighting priest still punching on at 61

Darren Walton December 21, 2023

Australia’s oldest registered professional boxer has fallen on hard times and been drawn back to the ring at the grand age of 61.

But ‘Punching Priest’ Father Dave Smith isn’t seeking sympathy, just support, as he strives to rebuild his life and retain the identity he holds so dear.

A three-time Australian of the Year nominee, Father Dave is legendary for his work with at-risk children and cleaning up the heroin-ridden streets of Sydney’s inner-west during a 31-year stint as parish priest for Holy Trinity in Dulwich Hill.

Father Dave Smith at the PCYC in Balmain, Sydney.
 The ‘Fighting Father’ will return to the ring with a Gold Coast bout in the run-up to Christmas. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

But now he’s broke and unemployed after being forced to resign following a marriage breakdown that has left the fighting father of four needing to resurrect his boxing career to keep his charities going.

“The truth is, I’m looking for a fight to get out of this. I don’t know how else to dig my way out,” Father Dave told AAP.

“I don’t care if people know, because I gave my life to the church for 31 years in that parish and then they just kicked me out and hit me when I was down.

“My wife left me. I lost my wife, and the kids in the community and the home and my job all at the same time. It’s not bloody easy.”

The Anglican minister is still managing the unfunded Binacrombi Bush Camp in the Blue Mountains but is also at risk of losing the 530-acre recreational site.  

“You can get defrocked for going bankrupt – and that’s a real issue,” said Father Dave, who counts Barack Obama as one of his more than 27,000 followers on X.

“I’m still doing an online service, thesundayeucharist.com, and that’s very meaningful for me, what we’re doing there and how we’re trying to extend that with our social justice programs and still trying to work with the kids.

“I’m desperately trying to keep the campsite going. We’ve got a team there and it’s who I am, it’s not what I do.”

Hence why the dual Marrickville Citizen of the Year will joust with veteran amateur champion Steve Esteban on the Gold Coast on Saturday night.

The Sydney southpaw won’t be paid for the pro-am bout but hopes the fight proves a stepping stone.

“It’s a good opportunity. I’ll take whatever opportunity I can get at the moment,” Father Dave said.

“What will get me out of this hole is if I can put on a good show and the promoter sees money in me.

“I need for them to see I’ve still got talent and I can still entertain.” 

Father Dave Smith goes through his paces at PCYC in Balmain, Sydney.
 Father Dave has total faith in his ability to look after himself in the ring. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Queensland officials will only offer the 61-year-old four two-minute rounds, but he reckons that’s better than nothing, saying he has been repeatedly blindsided and KO’d by the Combat Sports Authority of NSW.

“It’s just been a constant struggle,” he said.

“The last fight I had scheduled in Sydney was a couple of years ago and they called it off while I was in the changing room warming up.

“I took them to the tribunal over that and they ended up saying, ‘Oh, we thought it was a mismatch’.

“But anyone who knew anything about boxing knew it was an easy win for me because the other guy wasn’t fit. He took the fight to pay the rent.”

Despite having to travel to Queensland for his fifth pro fight, 27 years after his first, Father Dave insists officials have nothing to fear.

The sixth-degree martial arts black belt points to his 2012 Guinness Book of Records feat of sparring for eight continuous hours against 66 different opponents, including former world champion Anthony Mundine, over 120 consecutive rounds as testament to his endurance.

“I broke that world record when I was 50 and I’m still beating boxers half my age every day,” he said.

“I truly think boxing’s an extension of life. It’s a never-ending fight. You’ve got to get up and get out there each round and keep going.

“You don’t win every round – and I’ve been losing a lot of them lately – so I’ve just got to keep getting up and going out and doing another round.

“As the great poem says, ‘one more round’.”

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