By Patrick Lujan
Guam MMA fighter Joe Duarte hit a bump in the road last weekend in his quest to be the island’s first world champion in the sport after a tough split decision loss to Ryan Couture in Strikeforce’s Portland event.
“I was bummed out on myself because I could’ve done a better job,” Duarte said from his San Diego home. “Not being in the cage for the past year, I had a lot of ring rust.”
Despite what he calls being rusty, Duarte still had a shot at the win. According to fightline.com, the match was even going into the third and final round. ‘The Hybrid’ almost finished off his opponent via a rare Peruvian Necktie.
“It’s barely ever done in training and I was about to pull it off in the fight,” Duarte said about the rare choke move. “But he was real sweaty and his head popped out. He was gagging already.”
Couture rebounded with a fine finish, combining some dirty boxing (ala his famous father Randy), a takedown and late elbows and knees that perhaps pushed the judges his way for the slim victory decision.
“I fought Couture in his hometown and his dad was there, so if it’s even like that, the judges would go with him But I felt I did enough to win the fight.”
It wasn’t until after the fight that Duarte publicly announced that he has been suffering through a rib injury that seriously hindered his training camp as well as the fight itself.
“I almost pulled out of the fight but after not fighting for a year, I wanted to fight so bad.”
Duarte injured his rib during a sparring session halfway through his 12-week camp on a flying knee from a sparring partner that he initially thought was broken.
“I didn’t want the public and my opponent to know,” the Simon Sanchez graduate said. “I had to tailor my training to that. Even running sprints, it hurt. It really put a damper on the fight. I felt good going in, but I can tell the difference in the conditioning in the third round.”
Getting only two weeks worth of sparring while trying to heal the injury during preparation, Duarte wasn’t able to maximize his training. In fact, during the fight, he was conscientiously trying to avoid getting hit in the ribs.
Dropping to 10-3 in his career after winning his last five fights, he says that this loss will only fuel his desire to becoming Guam’s first MMA world champion.
“I can sit around and feel sorry for myself or go back to the gym and fine tune. I was really down on myself, but coming from a small island and fighting on national television now, I’m not going to let this get me down. This is just a speed bump in the road.
“When I fight, I represent our home and I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders. I’m not sad that I lost the fight, I just want to be the first world champion from Guam and the dream is in reach, and it just bums me out because there’s another set of fights before I get back up the ladder.”
That climb back up will most likely start in October in what he hopes to be his next fight.
As for Strikeforce, they understood the circumstances about Duarte’s ribs once told after the fight.
“(Strikeforce) knew that that wasn’t my best performance and that something was up. After telling them afterward, they understood and a lot of people knew I got the short end of the stick.”
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