In the few short years he’s been in MMA, Joe Duarte feels he’s grown by leaps and bounds.
As he told MMAWeekly.com, “I’ve always been naturally gifted and talented, but I’ve got coaches now that lead me in the right direction to make me be able to technically progress and not just be a better athlete.
“The key for me was basically my coaches finding what works for me. My MMA game is coming full circle now. I can fight anywhere. I’ve changed a lot over the last few fights, and it shows.”
It’s not only his game that’s undergone a transformation; originally weighing over 200 pounds, Duarte is making a name for himself now at lightweight.
“The first couple fights at 155 were really hard,” he admitted. “Nowadays I don’t let my body get too heavy. I’ve got a strength and conditioning program that works better for me without having to carry so much muscle mass; yet I still have the same strength as I would as if I were 180 pounds.”
Duarte’s hard work has paid off with a four-fight winning streak and an opportunity to headline Friday night’s Strikeforce Challengers 18 event in Las Vegas against veteran Jorge Gurgel, who despite being a BJJ black belt, has often gotten into slugfests with mixed results.
“Jorge is who he is, and if he wants to get in a slugfest with me, it will be a short night for him; but I’m sure he’s learned from his mistakes – or at least I hope he has – and comes out and fights the way he should,” said Duarte.
“He’s been in the game a long time, and I think he realizes the mistakes he’s made before. That’s why I’m excited to fight him; I don’t know what Jorge is going to show up on Friday, but I’m ready for it.”
While Duarte is primarily known as a striker, he is not afraid to go to the ground with Gurgel.
“It’s like what Carlson Gracie said, you hit a black belt once, he turns into a brown belt; you hit him twice, he turns into a purple belt,” chuckled Duarte. “I’ve submitted black belts before, and Jorge has been submitted by guys who are lessor belts than he is.
“He’s been submitted by Cole Miller and Alvin Robinson; so that’s why it doesn’t really matter to me what color belt you wear to the cage, what matters is what you show that night.”
Regardless of which Gurgel shows up on Friday night, Duarte is playing it cool because he feels all the expectations will be on his opponent’s shoulders, freeing him up to just go in and do his thing.
“A lot of times that pressure is what kills guys,” said Duarte. “There’s none of that on me this time. This is basically my coming out party. This fight determines the rest of his career, not mine.”
While he may not be a household name now, should Duarte continue to perform as he has recently; it might not be long before he gets the marquee treatment he missed out on this time.
“They didn’t even put me on the poster,” he joked. “Strikeforce said they didn’t even have a photo of me, so that’s why they didn’t put me on it. The way I see it, if they’re not going to put me on the poster, I’m going to have to show that I deserve to be on it.