Larry Butler: The Story Of His Fairytale Triumph In The 1994 World Matchplay

Published on 12 July 2023 at 13:00

Ahead of the 2023 World Matchplay of Darts, we're looking back on one of the greatest underdog stories in darting history, when a relatively unknown American in Larry Butler upset all the odds to win the 1994 World Matchplay. Here's the full recap of events at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool...


For the last 30 years, the world darts scene has been dominated by individuals from a select few countries, such as England, the Netherlands, Scotland and Wales. Countries like Canada and Australia have produced elite talent like John Part and Simon Whitlock respectively, but for a country as big and growing in the darts community as the USA, true talent is few and far to come by.


But with the 2023 World Matchplay set to commence this weekend in Blackpool, it’s important to remember the very first event all the way back in 1994, where one American stormed his way to glory and cemented his place in history as the first, and so far only, American to win a major PDC televised title. 


Larry Butler had been enjoying success in North American events when he, like some of his compatriots, were routinely invited by members of the recently formed World Darts Council (later the PDC) to participate in the majors and help bulk out the roster of players. 


By the time 1994 rolled around and the inaugural World Matchplay tournament at the Winter Gardens rolled around, few expected Butler or one of the non-seeded players to progress far in the 32 man field. In Butler’s half of the draw alone was the no.2 seed Pete Evison, the legendary Jocky Wilson, former World Champion Bob Anderson, and a Phil Taylor already making waves across the world as a force to be reckoned with. 


Luck was on Butler’s side however, with several high-profile exits and shocks serving up the perfect opportunity for Butler to progress: Wilson won 8-3 over Evison in the first round, the no.7 seed Cliff Lazarenko was knocked out at the first hurdle by another American in Jerry Umberger, and television debutant Shayne Burgess would be Butler’s eventual semi-final opponent after edging out Anderson in the quarter-finals.


Decisively beating Steve Raw 8-2 in his opening game, Butler then brushed aside Umberger and Wilson before beating Burgess in a much closer game to make the final in relatively convincing fashion. 


On the precipice of glory, the final would provide an opportunity at not only history, but also redemption for Butler: the man who awaited him was Dennis Priestley, no.1 seed and the inaugural WDC World Champion. Priestley was also the man who had dealt Butler defeat in the Bald Eagle’s debut World Championship campaign back in 1992. 


And it was the 8th of August, 1994, that the stage was set for Butler to write his name into darting folklore forever: although he had built up some strong momentum so far, Priestley had already taken the scalps of both Eric Bristow and Rod Harrington en-route to the final, and was the overwhelming favourite to scoop the crown of World Matchplay champion.


The final was certainly playing out like many expected it to, as ‘The Menace’ looked well on his way to victory as he opened up a 7-3 lead.


Larry Butler however, was unfazed, and produced perhaps his most enthralling performance yet in the final. No longer unknown and with scores of the crowd on his side, Butler took advantage of Priestley’s poor returns on the doubles to win six consecutive legs and completely turn the tide of the match. 


Butler never looked back, slowly extending his lead to 14-11 in the race to 16. Finally given match darts at 15-12, Butler’s fine marker eventually allowed him to nail Double 20 and emerge victorious in one of the sport’s truly iconic results. 


Since Butler, only a few competitors from ‘outsider’ nations have come and won major televised events: Dimitri Van den Bergh winning the Matchplay in 2020, Jose de Sousa winning the Grand Prix in the same year, and the Australian duo of Whitlock and Heta triumphing in the 2022 World Cup, but Butler sits alone on the top of the mountain as the sole American to win a major televised darts tournament. His victory in 1994 could truly be one for the record books for decades to come. 


Where does Larry Butler’s victory rank amongst the greatest underdog stories in darts history? And who do you think will win the Phil Taylor Trophy at the upcoming World Matchplay tournament? Let us know your thoughts today over @HLDivisionsport now!


Image Credit: Sky Sports/PDC

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