Michael Smith, back-to-back World Champion?
As far as nice guys go, you won’t get much “nicer” than the current World Darts Champion, Michael “Bully Boy” Smith. I should know, I sat down and had a beer or two with him some weeks ago when he was down here in NZ playing in the New Zealand Darts Masters in Hamilton.
But it’s not how “nice” someone is that determines who will win the big one and become the next World Champ in the early days of 2024. In this article, we will identify who we believe is playing at their best, at the right time of the year and without bagging anyone (as these players all deservemuch better on social media), we will give our view as to who we believe will become the next World Darts Champion in early 2024 and why.
If you look at the bookies, the current favourite is Luke Humphries. The current World ranked number 3, having moved up a notch just a couple of weeks back after back-to-back tournament wins by taking out the Grand Slam of Darts in mid-November, then the Players Championship Finals in late November. Many forget he also won the World Grand Prix in early October too. He was fourth favourite at the bookies prior to these last two tournament wins four weeks ago. If he averages 104.69 as he did in the final of the Grand Slam, he will no doubt be hard to beat, but the World Championship is a different beast altogether. Like the World Grand Prix, it is played by set play rather than by the best of or race to “X” legs. The last person to win the last two major tournaments of the year and also win the World Championship was MVG back in 2016. Prior to that it was none other than Phil Taylor who did it way back in 2009. Can Luke follow in those footsteps?
Not currently at their best: The third favourite at the bookies currently is the 2021 World Champion, “The Iceman” Gerwyn Price. Remember he won the title that year behind closed doors due to the Covid pandemic. At his best, he can still beat anyone on the PDC circuit. But after making the Premier League final at the O2 in May and the World Grand Prix final in early October, Gerwyn has not showed the form that we all know he is capable of this year. He’s also not really a fan of the long, set format that is played at these championships every year plus he has stated that the Ally Pally is not his favourite venue. Also the crowd tend to have a love/hate relationship with him which may well not help him this year. Remember Earmuffgate? Then there’s the 2020 and 2022 World champion, “Snakebite” Peter Wright who is another that isn’t possibly playing at his best at the moment. How can we say that when he won the European Championship in late October? His hot and cold showing since then gives us comfort in our view. Then there’s the current World Champ, Michael Smith. Remember him? The player that was always the bridesmaid or runner-up in big tournaments, who then finally won his first major at the Grand Slam of Darts in November 2022, then backed it up by winning the 2023 World Championship six weeks later. Michael has struggled with his form, or at least maintain it throughout 2023 proving just how difficult it is to become a back-to-back World Champion. Even in his own words lately he has said “somethings been missing” although he hopes he can regain form on the Ally Pally stage. We think he will struggle to do what only a handful of players have done before in the PDC. To win back-to-back World Championships. Those previously being able to achieve the feat? Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis and Gary Anderson. We hope for his sake, he proves us wrong.
Joe Cullen, Nathan Aspinall, Chris Dobey and Jonny Clayton are all players who will likely be there or thereabouts come the back end of the World Championships as they’re all playing good or at least solid darts. But you have to be playing your best darts to win this tournament, the biggest tournament of the year and for some, their lifetimes.
Watch out: We have three players that we think can certainly surprise at this year’s championships. Rob Cross, the 33 year old from Kent and 2018 World Champ is one who may surprise. Remember that run in 2018 when at a lowly ranked 20, he went on to beat Michael Smith, John Henderson, Dimitri Van den Bergh, MVG in the semi then Phil Taylor in the final? Wow! Anyway, back to 2023 and after starting this year losing a close final to Chris Dobey in the Darts Masters in late January, Cross has showed that if he’s not back to his career best form, he is certainly not a long way from it. One of the few pro darts players that takes his time before hitting that winning double, rubbing the sweat off his hand on his trousers before hitting that killer blow. Since January, Cross has been a quarter finalist at the UK Open and the World Series of Darts Finals. But more recently lost in the final of the Grand Slam of Darts with a 103.61 average just a month ago. Some would say he’s coming into form at the right time of the year.
Then there’s the two “old heads”: I’m sure both Gary Anderson and James Wade wouldn’t mind being called that given they’ve been on the tour way longer than most others on the pro circuit. Anderson’s game of late has been close to his best, but it’s the doubles that’s letting him down. He’s banging maximum scores for fun, and he also plays like he just doesn’t care if he wins or not and having been in pro darts for over two decades now, maybe he just doesn’t? The lefty, Wade on the other hand (pls excuse the pun) is a player you never count out, even within a match. His finishing is second to none as he never believes he is beaten. In the past month and a half, Wade has been a beaten finalist of the European Championship, made the Semi-final of Grand Slam and Quarter final of the Grand Slam of Darts. The last two tournaments he was bundled out by the eventual tournament winner, Luke Humphries. So, could James Wade be your 2024 World Champ?
As mentioned earlier, this is the biggest tournament of the year for professional dart players. With a total of £2.5m in prize money up for grabs at the Alexandra Palace, every pound won earns players ranking points for the next two years. The eventual winner will earn £500,000 of them!
History and Form: So, you’ve probably guessed who we have picked to win the “2024 Paddy Power World Darts Championship” given he hasn’t had much of a mention at all in this article yet. We believe Michael van Gerwen, also known as “MVG” or “The Green Machine” will take out this years championship mainly for two reasons, history and form. Even he has stated in the press just last week that he “believes Luke Humphries is only new name who can win at Ally Pally”. The three times World Champ (2014, 2017 & 2019) has done it all before. He is going to be up there when he retires as one of the greats of our game and he knows how to win. This year MVG has proven he is back to near his best darts ever following a quarter final exit in January in the Darts Masters. Michael lost a close UK Open final 10-11 in early March, then won the Premier League in May, the World Series of Darts Finals mid-September and had a close loss 9-11 in the Players Championship Finals just two and a half weeks ago by averaging nearly 2 1/2 points better than the eventual winner, Luke Humphries in that final.
The new World Championship tournament sponsor, Paddy Power threatened to paint the treble twenty green for this championship given their Irish roots but backed down under public pressure. Was it their Irish background that made them want to paint the T20 green or do they also think the Green Machine will become the 2024 World Darts Champion in early January? Time will tell.