Press Release courtesy of Bellator Fighting Championships
Joe Duarte, a former U.S. Army Ranger and up-and-coming MMA fighter has been added to Bellator Fighting Championships’ Season 2 lightweight tournament in place of Janne Tulirinta, who was forced to withdraw because of visa issues.

Duarte (5-1) will face Carey Vanier (7-2), a former all-American college wrestler and student of noted MMA trainer Greg Jackson, in Round One of the lightweight tournament Thursday night at Bellator 13 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

“We are disappointed that Janne Tulirinta won’t be able to participate in our tournament but are very fortunate that we were able to secure a very high-caliber fighter like Joe Duarte to step up so quickly,” said Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney.

“Joe’s known for his stand-up game so his bout against Carey Vanier, a very talented wrestler, will be an interesting one. Joe was our first alternate at 155, and his opportunity came and he was ready. More importantly than any of that, Joe is an American hero who regularly put his life on the line while serving as an Army Ranger in Iraq. I am proud to welcome him to our organization.”

Duarte, 26, was born and raised on the small South Pacific island of Guam, where he excelled in football, soccer and wrestling. At the age of 16, though, he discovered MMA and decided, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

“I knew I had all the athletic ability in the world,” he said. “I just needed the right coaching.”

Accordingly, he moved to Texas at the age of 19 and began training alongside some of the southwest’s top pros. Soon after arriving, though, he was inspired to join the Army.

He enlisted and left for Fort Benning, Ga., where he eventually went through basic, airborne and ranger training before being deployed to Iraq in 2003. After serving for more than three years, he completed his commitment to the Army in 2006 and was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action. He was hit in the neck with shrapnel from a roadside bomb.

Shortly after returning to the states, he settled in San Diego and took his first professional MMA fight, losing just one time in six career bouts. He has quickly gained a reputation throughout Southern California for his vicious striking and overall fearless approach.

“Having been in Iraq, it makes fighting seem a lot less intimidating,” he said. “I mean, the worst thing that can happen to you in the cage is that you lose. There’s a lot more on the line when you’re in the Army. I look at MMA as my sanctuary.”