On New Year’s Eve of 2015, Rena Kubota made her MMA debut with Rizin at a packed Saitama Super Arena. Before the bell for the end of the second round had sounded, she had unleashed a beautiful flying armbar and sealed her first victory in professional MMA.

She has since become one of the biggest names on the roster and will make her return to action at Rizin 24 on Sunday against Emi Tomimatsu. The 25 year old says she plans to make it a striking match,

“I’m very excited to be back in the ring, since I haven’t fought since New Year’s Eve of last year!
She is a veteran who is a very skilled grappler. She holds a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu and will be a great threat on the ground. The key for this fight will be how I land my strikes efficiently. I will need to keep this fight where I’m most strong at – which is on the feet,” she told AsianMMA.com.

Elite mentality

Eight of Kubota’s ten victories in MMA have come via way of stoppage, so it’s easy to see why she’s a fan favourite. She’s possesses an elite mentality and says she always focuses on the performance rather than the outcome,

“Achieving that moment where you feel like you gave it your all and can’t give anymore. It won’t matter if I’m a champion or not at that time. I think as a fighter, you continue to push your limits and the goal would be that moment when you realize you gave everything you could possibly think of.”

Her elite mentality was emphasized in her last fight, a rematch with Lindsay VanZant. Their first meeting at Bellator 222 ended with Kubota getting choked out in the first round.

Bouncing back

Their second meeting six months later ended quite differently. Kubota beat her opponent with such conviction at Rizin 20 that VanZandt’s corner ended up throwing in the towel.

“In the first fight in New York, I lost without being able to show anything. So, I was very happy to be able to show what I have been working on and win against the same opponent. I am confident of beating anybody who I face when I walk into that ring. And when I do, I always want to finish the fight by knockout.”

The pandemic prevented Rizin from putting on shows for six months. Given that international travel is still restricted, the cards have been made up exclusively of Japanese fighters.

Second wave

Kubota believes that Rizin is gradually starting to rekindle the glory years of Japanese MMA,

“I think Rizin being the biggest combat sports organization in Japan, and having its fights shown on terrestrial television has helped our sport has gotten recognition and the respect it deserves throughout all these years. I do feel that if there are any children and teenagers who see us on television, they might be interested in becoming a fighter. More young kids training leads to the growth in the level of the sport so I think Japan will be ready to see great talent in the upcoming years. I think that once this pandemic is situated, Japan will be ready to see another MMA boom.”

The Saitama Super Arena has always been the spiritual home of Japanese MMA and on Sunday there will be  5,000 fans in attendance. It may be a far cry from the days when ten times as many people would pack stadiums for Pride but fighters like Kubota are creating a second wave for the sport.