By Bryanna Fissori
Unbeaten in over a year, Joe “The Hybrid” Duarte (9-2) will face-off against Jorge Gurgel (14-7) in the Main Event for Strikeforce Challengers 18 in Las Vegas on August 12th.
Duarte trains out of The Arena MMA in San Diego. The facility is home to a number of other professional fighters including KJ Noons who defeated Gurgel last Summer by TKO.
“I actually wanted the fight after KJ (Noons) had fought him,” said Duarte. “Jorge always puts on exciting fights and is a veteran with a lot of experience. My prayers were answered, and the fight I wanted was finally here. I watched Jorge a lot for KJ’s fight and so I studied him well, he’s a good match up for me style wise. I’m going to bring it in this fight, and show the world what I’m all about.”
Both fighters are coming immediately off of submission wins for Strikeforce earlier in the year. Duarte defeated Saad Awad with a second round arm bar in April and Gurgel sunk in a guillotine choke on Billy Vaughan less than a minute into round one in March.
“I train with some of the top guys in the world on the ground. A black belt is a dime a dozen in San Diego,” said Duarte. “I’ve been a brown belt for a while now, and I’m no slouch on the ground. I’ve spent many years wrestling and doing BJJ but I prefer to bang it out and put on a show.”
Duarte is humble about his ground skill considering that two-thirds of his professional wins have come from submissions.
“I’m already in better shape for this fight than I was for my fight against Saad,” said Duarte. “I had more time to prepare plus I was helping KJ train so I came into camp already in good shape. Saad is a beast, he has one punch KO power and he’s a tough wrestler. He’s a total different fighter from Jorge. Gurgel may be crafty but he doesn’t posses that one punch KO power.”
After a very brief rest following his last Strikeforce event, Duarte and his team have been hard at work in camp preparing for this bout.
“So far Joes training has gone great,” said Manager and Arena Coach Jeff Clark. “It’s nice to have plenty of notice for a fight. Gurgel is a talented fighter with plenty of experience, so we have been planning to face the best Gurgel ever. Joe strength is that he is very well-rounded. He’s a great striker with good wrestling and takedown defense. Most people don’t know how good his ground game is yet. I look forward to this fight more than most and know Joe has all the ability to walk away the victor.”
Duarte has been training at The Arena since its foundation in 2009 and was there to watch and help it grow into the successful MMA mecca it has become.
“I’ve been and train at many different gyms, but The Arena will always be my home,” said Duarte. “It’s important to travel and get work with other camps but you have to have a home. It’s stacked with talented fighters and coaches, I’m just blessed to be a part of something REAL!”
Though Duarte now lives and trains in San Diego, his roots come from the small island of Guam where he was born and raised. That is where he was first inspired to follow his dream of becoming a professional fighter.
“My hands were made for climbing coconut trees and punching people,” said Duarte as he smiled and held up his palms which very much fit that description. “My Uncle Greg took me to a Super Brawl and I watched “Big” John Calvo fight and it showed me that a simple island boy can really throw down with the best of them. Big John was my hero and I wanted to be just like him. He and I became really close and he is one of my best friends. Ever since I watched Big John fight I knew it was what I was going to do. I was stubborn and didn’t listen to the people who said it couldn’t be done. So I left Guam to achieve my dream. I knew that no one from Guam fought for a living and I knew it could be done. Usually in order for people to believe something, they have to see someone else do it. So I put myself out there, because I knew I couldn’t do it at home back then.”
It was also on Guam that he first met his Head Trainer Vince Salvador. Salvador is also a Guam native. Both men have Chamorro blood and had similar stories of growing up on the island.
“Vinny became a well-known at our high school,” said Duarte. “He was a professional fighter and was still in high school. On Guam, you grow up fighting, BBQ’ing, or surfing, sometimes you do all at the same time, haha.
“Vince and I began training at Purebred back in 99′ when it opened. We were the young bucks and weren’t looked at as prospects but we didn’t mind getting our asses kicked by the older guys. We began to train together again when I was in the Army here in the states and when I moved to San Diego to do it as a full-time job I tried my best to get him out here. He would come out and help me, Saulo, Xande, Jacare, and Andre Galvo train for fights.”
Duarte is a couple of years younger than Salvador. “When I met him he was just a cocky kid and he had a big mouth,” laughs Salvador. “He can still be a little cocky, but he can back up what he says. I was already training with Purebred and we went to school together. We were basically punching dummies for the older guys than. We have come a long way.”
Duarte and Salvador have had quite a long time together to acquire plenty of blackmail material, and we can be sure there are many stories they will never tell though Duarte was willing to give up one.
“I could get us both in trouble if I said any stories,” said Duarte with a big, goofy grin as he shakes his head and laughs. “When Vinny was living in Las Vegas, we flew him out to help with all of us that were getting ready for fights. Saturday training was in the morning at 11am and everyone showed up except Vinny. So I kept calling and calling but no answer. I was getting worried because he was supposed to run the striking training for Jacare, Andre Galvao, Saulo and Xande, and I. So at 11:30 he shows up in cab wearing the same clothes from the day before, somehow he ended up in Mexico! He had a bad hang-over and still ran sparring and did pad work with all the guys. It was the first the time I ever saw a pad holder get more exhausted than the guys that were hitting pads. He got to the point where he almost passed out and Saulo had to coach him through the last few rounds as he was holding pads. Like a trooper, Vinny made it through the session but it was one of the funniest things to witness!”
Duarte asserts that one of the most important aspects of training is trusting your coaches and team and believing in what they are telling you.
“Vince is blessed with the ability to teach and train, I may be a good fighter but he has light years more knowledge than me,” said Duarte. “A lot of what I do is because I’m athletic and gifted, Vinny helps me fine tune what I do and points out my mistakes. The most important aspect of a fighter and trainer relationship is trust, and I trust Vinny. Vinny, Jeff Clark, Pat Speight, Rob Garcia, Jake Mapes, and KJ Noons have been a few of the guys that really took my game to the next level. I wouldn’t be at the level I’m at without them.”
Duarte has seen a lot of changes in his life since he left Guam in 2002. He served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army from 2003-2005. At the completion of his second tour Duarte moved to San Diego where his brother was living and in 2006 he had his first professional fight.
“Like everything in life, you have to build yourself, like a house,” said Duarte. “I had a foundation but no real stability on Guam. We had good athletes but no world-class trainers or training partners on a daily basis. Now I have that, and I feel truly bless to be in my situation. I spend all my off time with my family and close friends, the most partying I do now is enjoy the fights at local spots with friends and MMA fans. When I’m in camp, my life revolves around training and rest, my wife (Brittany) picks up the slack so I can be rested for multiple training sessions a day.”
“To be honest, I was a selfish bastard and I never noticed that until I met my wife. My wife and daughter (Gabriella) taught me what it meant to love. To love something or someone, you have to love it more than you love yourself.”
Duarte’s most recent loss, which is one of only two in his professional career, came in April of 2010, when he took a fight with the Bellator promotion against Carey Vanier on only a weeks notice. According to Brittany Duarte, “He took one for the team,” as they had just been recently engaged and couldn’t turn down the needed funds to help pay for their wedding later that year.
“My familia is what defines me as a man now,” said Duarte. “My career took off when I started to apply that way of thinking to fighting. I learned to enjoy getting pushed to my limits. Saying you are “training hard” is relative. What I thought was hard before, is a stroll in the park now. Because now I know what it means to truly love to FIGHT.
“I’m fighting on the biggest stage that anyone has ever fought on from Guam and I’m headlining. I feel I’m just getting started, I feel a sense of pride for my home and an obligation to my people to show the world that we can become anything, no matter where you’re from. Next stop….roof top!”
Get more great MMA news, recaps and analysis over at MMAValor.com