On January 3, 2023, Michael Smith uttered the words: ‘I’ve completed darts’, after lifting the coveted Sid Waddell Trophy on a famous night at Alexandra Palace.
Smith produced the performance of his life to topple Dutch superstar Michael van Gerwen in a thrilling finale, to be crowned World Champion and the new world number one on the same night.
However, as the St Helens star prepares to defend his crown at the 2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship, he has a renewed sense of hunger ahead of his return to the capital.
“When I won the World Championship, I said I had completed darts,” reflected Smith, who will face either Kevin Doets or Grand Slam quarter-finalist Stowe Buntz in his opening tie on December 15.
“I literally thought about it for six or seven months – I hadn’t been practising, I was going to Vegas on holiday. I thought what else can I do?
“Now it’s about adding a second, a third and a fourth [World Championship] title. I want to win every major that the PDC has to offer. Then I really can say that I’ve completed darts!”
Smith produced an astonishing nine-dart finish during the second set of his victory over Van Gerwen – in a leg dubbed the greatest of all-time – after the Dutchman missed double 12 for a perfect leg in the previous visit.
The 33-year-old’s success generated worldwide coverage, with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal taking inspiration from the World Champion by showcasing his darting prowess on prime-time US sports show ‘Inside The NBA’.
Smith also starred as a guest on TV talk-show ‘The MMA Hour’ - hosted by renowned MMA journalist Ariel Helwani - before appearing on a podcast co-hosted by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos.
“The people I had looked up to and had followed on social media were now following me back and sending messages congratulating me,” recalled Smith.
“It was unreal, a dream come true, and it only took that one leg – about 90 seconds – and it has helped change the sport.
“I cannot wait to get to Ally Pally now, because I will finally see myself holding that trophy on the [champions] wall.
“If I am struggling, I can just look up and see it. I think that is going to give me the inspiration that I need.
“I’ll be very proud when John McDonald announces me as the reigning and defending champion, but I’ll also be sad as well, because I don’t want it to end.
“I’m not quite ready to be called the former World Champion yet!”
Smith made a terrific start to life as World Champion, winning the inaugural Bahrain Darts Masters in January, before registering four nightly wins on his way to reaching the Premier League semi-finals.
The world number one also progressed to the World Grand Prix semi-finals in October, but has since suffered a string of early exits on the televised stage.
However, Smith boasts a superb record in the sport’s flagship event, having featured in three of the last five World Championship finals - a record only matched by Van Gerwen.
He is also only the second player – along with Adrian Lewis – to have produced a nine-darter in a PDC World Championship final, and now he’s setting his sights on joining another exclusive group in 2024.
Smith has made no secret of his desire to build a darting dynasty over the coming decades, and victory at Alexandra Palace this year would see him become the fourth player to retain the PDC world title.
“Something has been missing on stage, but there’s no better place to find it than at the World Championship,” stated Smith, a 10/1 shot with title sponsor Paddy Power.
“I know what it takes to win it now, and I know I can bring my A-game. To become only the fourth player to go back-to-back would be amazing.
“I don’t want to be a one-time World Champion, and I want to win even more titles than Gary [Anderson] and Adrian [Lewis].
“When you retire, people can sometimes forget that you’ve won it, but when you’ve won it multiple times, you leave a legacy behind, and that is what I want to leave now.”
You can read the full, exclusive feature with Michael in the official 2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship programme, which is available to pre-order now.