Rena Kubota (10-3) hasn’t fought at 108-pounds in what will be five fights come Sunday. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her sights still locked on that title.
RIZIN 24 takes place on September 27 and will feature the return of the Japanese superstar and Shootboxing queen in Kubota. Standing across from her will be her most experienced MMA opponent to date, the 38-year-old Emi Tomimatsu (15-16).
Kubota’s MMA career has seen her establish herself as an elite atomweight talent. That was up until a weight miss from anemia and dehydration at RIZIN 14 to close out 2018. Since then Kubota has been competing in 112-pound catchweight contests.
For the upcoming Tomimatsu fight, she’ll be weighing in at 116-pounds as a strawweight for the first time. Thus making the MMA world wonder whether or not she may be done with the super atomweight class for good.
However, the fact remains that the only female champion in RIZIN competes in that division. And for that champion, Seo Hee Ham, she’s already suffered defeat against Kubota in a 2012 Shootboxing match.
“For this fight, it was obviously a quite short notice fight, so I didn’t really want to focus all of my fight camp on cutting weight,” Kubota told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN in regards to the Tomimatsu fight, “We negotiated and agreed to 53 KG (116-pounds) which will be somewhere that I’ll comfortably be able to come down to and also focus on my fight camp as well.
“If the opportunity comes where I will be able to face Seo Hee Ham, I definitely could cut down to 49 KG (108-pounds) which is the super atomweight division. But I’ll see how my movement is at this weight in my upcoming fight then I’ll decide if I’m going to stick with the strawweight division or if I can go down and fight at super atomweight constantly. So it all depends on this upcoming fight.”
Three years after defeating Ham, Kubota made her MMA debut and began to make waves by finishing her first five outings. Ham returned to MMA following the loss and has been a picture of perfection at her home of atomweight ever since as she rides a winning streak of 12. This is excluding her brief four-fight strawweight stint in the UFC from 2014-2016.
“Last time I fought Ham it was a long time ago,” Kubota reflected, “Obviously, Shootboxing is a different sport than MMA so you can’t really put those two together. And obviously, Ham is the current RIZIN champion, so for me, that’s where the motivation is. Just facing the champion and being able to beat her in her rules.
“More importantly, she’s a very good striker and I’m a striker, and I think that if we fought, we’d be able to put on one of the best female fights that anybody could possibly imagine. So that in itself is very interesting and I’d be very interested to fight that fight in itself. That fight in MMA, it would definitely be a crowd pleaser and I’d like to make that happen.”
Ham’s winning performance to claim the title came at RIZIN 20 to close out 2019. South Korea’s finest got redemption against her old rival Ayaka Hamasaki in what was an instant classic of a trilogy bout.
In the end, Ham’s hand was raised as she got the split decision nod. At RIZIN 22 last month, Hamasaki rebounded against Tomo Maesawa looking just as good as ever. The former RIZIN and Invicta FC queen secured the win over Maesawa via second-round kimura.
As a seasoned veteran of the sport, Hamasaki has become somewhat of a mentor to Kubota throughout the Shootboxing star’s still young MMA journey. And as Kubota continues to aim for her goal of claiming a title in her new sport, Hamasaki isn’t at all far from getting to exchange blows with Ham once again, either.
Assuming that were to happen sooner rather than later, and Hamasaki recaptured her title, Kubota’s continued success could then lead to a possible clash with her friend.
“So we’re talking about something way ahead, right?” Kubota began, “I used to not even think about fighting Hamasaki but slowly… if it’s a special occasion or if it’s like a ‘must’ situation, like if we met in the same bracket of a tournament, or a retirement fight… If it was a special occasion and it made sense I think I wouldn’t be too hesitant about fighting her. But up until recently, I really didn’t have an idea. I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of fighting Ayaka.”
Of course, everything for Rena Kubota currently hinges on what happens next and that will be attempting to defeat Tomimatsu at RIZIN 24.