Michael Smith won his maiden PDC World Darts championship at the Alexandra Palace in January. It was a huge success for the man from St Helens as it showed he had fulfilled his promise.
Bully Boy broke onto the PDC scene in 2008, and ever since then, he has been tipped by pundits in the sport to become a world champion. In what was a spectacular final in the 2023 tournament, it was Smith who prevailed 7-4 against three-time winner Michael van Gerwen.
The final earlier this year was Smith’s third of his career. He finished runner-up in 2019, losing 3-7 to van Gerwen, while 12 months ago, Peter Wright defeated him 5-7 in the showcase game.
Last season was a huge year for Smith. He won his first major title with the PDC at the Grand Slam of Darts in November. In that tournament in Wolverhampton, he had wins over Rob Cross, Joe Cullen, Raymond van Barneveld and Nathan Aspinall before lifting the trophy. In the final against The Asp, he came out on top 16-5
With those major wins behind him, Smith could now be ready to dominate the sport. He is the number-one player in the PDC world rankings, and he has the experience of getting over the line in big events.
It has been a solid start to 2023 for the world champion. He reached the semi-finals of the Masters, losing to the eventual winner Chris Dobey. The 32-year-old was victorious in the Bahrain Darts Masters, where he beat Gerwyn Price 8-6 in the final in Sakhir.
Another goal for Smith this year will be the US Darts Masters in New York City. He won the tournament in 2022, getting the better of van Gerwen in the final. It is the opening event in the World Series of Darts.
Legislation legalizing online sports betting in New York was passed in 2013, and there is likely to be a lot of interest in Smith this year among sports bettors for the major tournaments, including the PDC World Darts Championship, where he is the 3/1 favourite. The state of New York hosts the highest number of sports franchises in the United States, so they are familiar with a wide range of disciplines, including American football, baseball and basketball. The presence of Smith and the other leading darts names this year may fuel even further interest in darts.
The world champion goes into the World Series of Darts as one of the highest seeds. If victorious in the series, he will scoop £70,000 in prize money. It is the second time the US Darts Masters will be held in New York. It was previously played in Las Vegas between 2017 and 2021.
The biggest threat to Smith dominating the PDC Tour right now is van Gerwen. Although he is not as prolific in events as he was between 2014 and 2019, he showed in 2022 that he is still one of the favourites in every tournament he enters.
Mighty Mike won four major tournaments in 2022. He lifted the trophy in the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix, Players Championship Finals and the Premier League play-offs.
The Dutchman played his part in the excellent final of the World Darts Championship in 2023. He was one dart away from a nine-dart success before Smith hit Double 12 for his moment in history. In his semi-final victory over Dimitri Van den Bergh, he averaged an impressive 108.28 in the 6-0 whitewash.
Van Gerwen has made an excellent start to the 2023 Premier League of Darts. After four nights of the competition, he tops the table with 10 points. He was runner-up in night one in Belfast, losing 5-6 to Dobey, while on night four, he defeated Price in the final in Dublin.
Although the 33-year-old is already one of the most successful darts players of all time, there are many records still held by Phil Taylor in the sport that he will want to break. One of MVG’s targets this year will be to reclaim the top spot in the world rankings.
Newcastle’s Dobey won the opening major television event of the year, the Masters. In what was his first appearance in the final of a major, he defeated Englishman Cross 11-7 to lift the trophy back in January.
His victory in Milton Keynes helped Dobey earn a spot in the Premier League in 2023. It is the first time he has been part of the invitational event that involves eight players. He showed in week one in Belfast that he deserved his place, as he was the winner of the opening night.
Dobey will be hoping to break into the top 10 of the world rankings in 2023. He is 21st in the standings following his victory in the Masters. If he continues to have success against the leading players in the Premier League, it will not be long before he climbs the rankings.
The 32-year-old had his best run at the PDC World Darts Championship in 2023. He made it through to the quarter-finals, where he lost to van Gerwen. Before his exit, he knocked out Rob Cross and Gary Anderson.
Like Smith, Dobey took a while to start delivering consistent results in the PDC. The Masters victory will give him a lot of confidence that he can win more major events over the next few years.
Former world champions Wright and Price are second and fourth in the world rankings, respectively. Both players remain a threat to Smith’s chances of winning multiple world titles in the near future.
Wright has won the World Championship twice in the last four years. His form over the last 12 months has dipped, particularly compared to 2021 where he had the best season of his career.
The Scotsman has never ended the year as the world number one in the sport. He has been second on those rankings in each of the last three seasons. The 52-year-old is much older than the likes of Smith, van Gerwen and Dobey, but he has used his experience to good effect at the oche.
There were good signs for Wright in January at the Nordic Darts Masters. He beat Price 11-5 in the final. However, he has made a poor start to the 2023 Premier League, as he has failed to pick up a single in the opening four nights, going out in the quarter-finals in each of those events.
Price was consistently at the business stage of major tournaments in 2022 but his only success came in the World Series of Darts Finals. The former world number one beat Dutchman Dirk van Duijvenbode 11-10 in a deciding leg in Amsterdam for the seventh major title of his career.
The former professional rugby league player also reached the final of the World Matchplay and World Cup of Darts. In the latter, he was paired with Jonny Clayton, and they were beaten by the Australian pairing of Simon Whitlock and Damon Heta in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Iceman allowed the crowd to affect his game at the world championship in 2023. He wore earphones in his quarter-final defeat to Gabriel Clemens. If he is to win a second world title, that is something the Welshman will need to work on as he has picked up the position as the pantomime villain at the Alexandra Palace now.
Price won night two of this year’s Premier League. In front of a home crowd in Cardiff, he got the better of Aspinall in week two. The Welshman went close to a second success just two weeks later as he was beaten in the final by van Gerwen 5-6.
Smith will defend his World Darts Championship trophy when the tournament returns to the Ally Pally in December.