Rena Kubota, Kana Watanabe Among Winners At Rizin FF 15Competing at her traditional fighting weight of 51kg, top Japanese star Rena Kubota made a successful return to MMA action tonight at Rizin Fighting Federation 15 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Kubota defeated Samantha Jean-Francois in a bout that was originally scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

Earlier on tonight’s card, undefeated flyweight standout Kana Watanabe overcame a solid effort from Polish challenger Justyna “Lara Croft” Haba en route to a Unanimous Decision victory. Also at flyweight, Kanako Murata earned a short-notice submission win over Saray Orozco Rodriguez.


Kubota (8-2-0) countered early takedown attempts from Jean-Francois (4-6-0) with knees and she threw Jean-Francois to the mat. Jean-Francois reversed on the way down and the fighters stood, with Jean-Francois taking Kubota back down soon after and Kubota quickly attacking with a kimura. She used it to sweep and the fighters returned to their feet again. Kubota flurried to the head and body and attempted another throw, but Jean-Francois shrugged off the takedown attempt and she took Kubota’s back in the process. Jean-Francois used a body triangle to trap Kubota in place as she threw punches and attempted a neck crank at the bell.

Kubota rushed forward with punches in the second round and Jean-Francois took her down. Kubota framed up an armbar from the bottom and she wrenched back on Jean-Francois’s left arm. Jean-Francois escaped, but Kubota took top position in the process and she landed short punches until the fight returned to the feet. Kubota reversed a takedown into mount and she rained down elbows and heavy punches. Jean-Francois rolled over and gave up her back as Kubota continued to batter her with punches and hammerfists. She transitioned to another armbar attempt, but Jean-Francois avoided danger and remained on top. Kubota locked on a third armbar and Jean-Francois defended with knee strikes late in the round.

Kubota landed an overhand right and two left hooks in the early stages of round three. She followed with more punches that prompted Jean-Francois to clinch with her against the ropes. Kubota stuffed a takedown and she wound up in mount position on the ground. Jean-Francois threw up her legs and managed to trap Kubota in an inverted body triangle that took Kubota out of mount position. Following a scramble on the mat, Kubota landed hammerfists from side control and the fighters stood. Kubota fought off Jean-Francois’s takedown attempts with punches and took top position on the ground once again. From North-South, Kubota landed knees to Jean-Francois’s face and forehead, and the fight ended with an exchange of punches on the feet.

All three judges scored the fight in favour of Kubota, who took the Unanimous Decision win. The victory was an important one for the 27-year-old, who was forced to withdraw from a planned 49kg bout with Jean-Francois in December after being hospitalised from a bad weight cut.

“The weight was different, so I needed to adapt more and my reflexes could have been quicker, but I was relieved,” Kubota reflected backstage after the fight. “[Jean-Francois’s] eyes had life in them even when she was in tough situations and so I think that she is strong. I did grapple with her and I found joy in MMA again. I have not been competing in Shoot Boxing more than once per year, but [Takeshi] Caesar and I are in talks about fighting more often in SB.

“I’m very glad that the audience supported me since I could have been booed,” Kubota added. “I couldn’t finish the armbar tonight due to small mistakes, but finally I can show off my grappling that I’ve trained for the past 3-4 years. My mentor [Ayaka Hamasaki] won the [Rizin Super Atomweight Championship] belt and my division is different now, so I want to be a stronger fighter. I’m amazed about the [Bellator] Madison Square Garden event. I don’t know if I can participate, but I need to be stronger and I want to be able to show off variations of my grappling with armbars or ground and pound.”

“I am thankful to have the fight opportunity this time,” Jean-Francois commented backstage. “The change in division was not important for this fight. I made many little mistakes this time. I will correct those and improve as a fighter. I’m happy to have fought Rena. She has strong striking, but I did not expect her to hit hard enough for a KO. I’m glad that her strikes did not damage my face so that my son won’t have to see that. I want to face her once more, but I don’t think she will ever fight at 49kg again, so give me some time for that fight and I will adapt more to the division.”


Watanabe (7-0-1) and Haba (1-1-0) exchanged punches in the first minute of their bout and Watanabe mixed in kicks to Haba’s lead leg. Haba landed a huge right hand that briefly staggered Watanabe, but she recovered quickly and the fighters clinched against the ropes. Watanabe threw Haba to the mat and worked from the top in side control, and she landed punches and elbows that set up a move to mount. In the final minute, Watanabe trapped Haba’s left arm and she battered her with elbows while trying for an arm-triangle choke.

Haba swarmed on Watanabe with punches early in round two, but Watanabe tied her up and pulled her down to the mat. She trapped Haba in a unique neck crank from an inverted half-nelson position, but Haba escaped and stood up. Watanabe used a headlock throw to try to get Haba down, but Haba fell against the ropes and she was able to rise to her feet in a corner. Time was called to check on Watanabe’s nose, which had begun to bleed from a right hand, but action soon resumed and Haba backed Watanabe up with punches. Watanabe circled away and Haba came up short with overhand rights late in the round.

Watanabe struck first with a right cross in the final round and Haba countered with punches over the top. She initially prevented Watanabe from getting her down, but lost her balance and Watanabe peppered her with punches. Watanabe kept Haba down on her knees as she landed hammerfists and elbows to the side of her face. Haba could not break free, and she ate punches, elbows and knees to the head until the end of the fight.

The judges were united and all three scored the fight for Watanabe, who prevailed via Unanimous Decision. She has won five straight fights since a razor-thin Majority Draw with rival Yukari Nabe in the pair’s first meeting at Deep Jewels 19.

“I’m glad I won. She is tough and strong,” Watanabe stated backstage following her win. “She refused to let me take her down and sprawled all the time. I needed to expect that my opponent would fight like that. After the takedown, my instincts moved me to that arm-triangle choke and I was confident in my grappling. In the first half of the fight, I watched her strikes and tried to build the fight around that, but I got hit by some punches and so I switched to grappling. I regret letting it go to a decision. I want to lead my [flyweight] division and I want my division to have a belt. I would like to speak with [Nobuyuki] Sakakibara about that.”

“Watanabe is very strong,” Haba noted backstage. “I expected that she would have strong grappling and I trained to sprawl, but she still managed to get me to the ground and I felt weak in the grappling. I felt the power of her elbows on the ground, but her standing strikes were not as scary. She won rounds one and three, and I won the second. I need to train more and I learned lessons from this fight. I need to think more about how I train after this.”


Murata (9-1-0) punched her way into an early clinch and took Orozco (4-3-0) down near the ropes. She landed elbows from the top until Orozco battled back up to her feet. A hard left hand landed for Murata soon after and she shot in for another takedown. Orozco tried to fight her off and gave up partial back control in the process. She rose to her feet, only to be taken back down once more. Murata trapped her in a modified front choke and landed knees. As Orozco stood up, Murata blasted her with more knees and two soccer kicks. She got Orozco down and briefly secured a Brabo choke, and the round ended with Murata landing knees to the body in a corner.

Murata wasted no time in taking Orozco back down in the second round. She momentarily looked to set up another front choke, but Orozco scrambled free and stood up. Murata elevated her up in the air and slammed her down to the mat. Orozco attempted a guillotine choke on the way down, but that proved to be her downfall as Murata passed to mount and trapped Orozco in a tight shoulder choke. Orozco was soon rendered unconscious and the fight was waved off at the 2:12 mark of round two.

“My mental and physical condition is not 100%,” Murata admitted backstage following her victory, which came on short notice. “Everyone around me said that [Orozco] is a striker, but I studied her and realised that she can wrestle. I did not expect to fight her when I first heard that [Shinju Nozawa-Auclair] would be absent, though I had been training for a fight, but a fight in front of a big audience like this is different from training.

“I lifted [Orozco] up and she tried for a guillotine choke, but I avoided it by turning and slamming her,” Murata added. “It’s good to get a finish since it is less common in women’s fights. Orozco gave me a Mexican hat as a gift. It was a sudden offer, but I decided to accept it. My next fight is in June for Invicta. I will go back to the United States on Wednesday and prepare there for my fight.”

“She is a much different fighter from my original opponent [Shinju Nozawa-Auclair],” Orozco stated backstage. “It was hard to adjust. At the end of the fight, I lost consciousness for ten seconds but I’m alright now. We both tried to time our attacks, but she fared better. I did my best, but she was better tonight. Fighting for Rizin makes my dreams come true and I want to improve and come back again.”



(Photo Credit: Shoot Boxing)