By Patrick Lujan
He’s been away from the game for almost two years now.
After a controversial loss to Ryan Couture in the summer of 2012, Guam’s Joe Duarte (10-3) stepped away from the fight game – to recharge, to refocus, to reevaluate.
In doing so, Duarte built upon his post-fighting career along with his beautiful family. Now he’s ready to step back in to the Bellator cage on July 25th against an old foe he’s beaten already in Saad Awad – but with a newfound outlook on life.
GSPN catches up with ‘The Hybrid’ after he officially made the comeback announcement.
GSPN: It’s been a while since you’ve gotten into the cage to fight. Why the long lay off?
Duarte: To be honest, I got burnt out on fight training. Fighting demands a lot and I wanted to live a normal life for a bit and allow myself to train for fun again. Time off was the best thing because it allowed me to escape the pressures of being a fighter and grow as a human being. Fighting was everything to me before, it defined who I was. Now it’s a small part of my life, and by prioritizing it that way it allowed me to find love for the sport again.
GSPN: Was it more for business purposes or to refocus as a fighter?
Duarte: A little bit of both, I had to focus on my businesses and learn to detach myself from fighting so I can make the transition more comfortable when I retire from the sport. I matured a lot from the time off. I learned to look at fights as just fights, because I used to look at it as a life or death situation and that isn’t mentally healthy. That old mind set I had made me fight too safe because I started fighting to not lose rather than fighting to finish.
GSPN: When did you know it was time to get back in?
Duarte: When training hard became fun again. By prioritizing my life, my mental aspect changed and fighting became fun again. I am a father/husband first, and as long as I am good at that, I can focus on training hard for a fight. The pressure of the “having to win” is off my chest because my life is financially secure now. I no longer need to fight financially, so it allows me to go out there and put everything on the line. I chose to fight again because I want to, so I am going all out.
GSPN: How different of a fighter are you now as compared to your last controversial loss to Ryan Couture?
Duarte: I learned so many things, but the biggest thing I took away from that fight is to never let things eat away at me. I am my own worst critic. I forgot that I have accomplished so much, and lost sight of seeing how far I really came. Now, I don’t let things get to me and let the hype pressure me to have to win or do great. As athletes all we can do is our best, and mistakes will be made but now I know how to deal with those mistakes mentally. I fight for myself now, and I feel I am more dangerous when I am like that. I will take risk because I am no longer afraid to lose. I just want to be in exciting fights.
GSPN: You’re facing an opponent you already beat. Why fight him again?
Duarte: Saad and I are friends, and some of the best sparring sessions and fights I had were against people I knew. There is this competitiveness that drives me, and since we had a super entertaining fight last time, I figure why not do it again. Fights like our last fight will teach you more about yourself than 4 years of college. It was a war, and those are the fights where you have to dig deep down inside yourself to pull out a win. You really find out how mentally and physically strong you are.
GSPN: With the likes of Baby Joe, Tuck and JDR, does that drive you more to get back in?
I am proud of my boys, but most of all I am proud of where we come from. Out here nothing is given to you, but yet we beat the odds and we all call the same place home. They inspire me to be better, and continue to compete.
GSPN: You were the first big-time fighter coming out of Guam. Do you see yourself as a pioneer for all the other Guam fighters?
Duarte: No I don’t, the real pioneers are guys like Big John Calvo, Mike Ulloa, Ted Vida, Ceasar Whitt…etc. Even now I still look up to those guys, without them I wouldn’t be here. They inspired me to take what they did and add to it. My whole goal was to inspire people back home to take a chance at life and pursue their dreams. I want them to know that its ok to fail, its part of life, but not trying is the worst thing you can do. After all, how do you know how far you would have got if you don’t take a chance in the first place.
Bellator 122 will be broadcast live from Pechanga beginning at 6 p.m. PST on Spike TV. The preliminary card will be streamed live and free exclusively on Spike.com
GPS Sports Calendar