What RENA has meant to the combat sports world has changed as years have gone by.
When the Osaka-born athlete made her Shoot Boxing debut in 2007, she wasn’t associated with MMA at all. Not only that, but her ties to the sport wouldn’t come along until nearly a decade later when promotion RIZIN came around.
The stages have gotten bigger for RENA as her career has evolved, and so has what she stands to represent. Coming up on her sixth anniversary as an MMA fighter, she considers herself a figure in the public eye for RIZIN and also women in combat sports as a whole.
“My motivation [at the start] was to definitely try to represent Shoot Boxing. And then as my career moved on, it was more about representing women’s combat sports,” said RENA in an interview with Knockdown News via a translator.
RIZIN launched in 2015, opening up a new major platform for fighters in Japan to compete. RENA fought on the second day of the promotion’s two-day launch late that year. Fast-forward to the present day, she is the last big name from that lineup to still be on the roster.
“My growth as an MMA fighter has also been the growth of RIZIN,” she said.
RENA’s next fight may be the biggest indicator of that growth. Her opponent at the main event of RIZIN 32 this weekend is Miyuu Yamamoto. The fight will be a rematch – something RENA is used to. However, she has never had such a gap between two fights in a rivalry during her MMA career.
RENA first met Yamamoto back in 2016, competing for just her second MMA fight. It was also Yamamoto’s MMA debut. It was a perfect style clash in that first meeting. The striker, RENA, was going up against the decorated wrestler.
Their background was known by then, but little could be said at that time about how that could translate to MMA.
“When we fought for the first time, we had no data. There was absolutely no data on her. … But after five years [and] many fights, we can study a lot,” RENA said.
RENA was successful in her first meeting against Yamamoto. While Yamamoto was able to score a takedown early, RENA showed the ability to compete on the ground and caught Yamamoto on the feet with a ninja choke – which was tapped out to when the fight hit the ground.
A lot has changed since that 2015 fight. Both have fought for a belt, and they have certainly each experienced lots of highs and lows.
RENA hasn’t fought in over a year but stresses that she has been preparing during this time.
Well aware of Yamamoto’s wrestling background, RENA has been training with Kazuyuki Miyata – who owns an extensive MMA career and was an Olympian in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Olympic games.
Being a kickboxer, RENA’s greatest strength has always been her striking. With that being said, she feels her next performance will display how well-rounded she has become over the years.
“I do believe that I have evolved as an MMA fighter and Miyuu [Yamamoto] has evolved [by] maximizing her strengths, which is her wrestling. So, she’s turned into a heavy wrestling-style MMA fighter.”
RENA, now 30 years old, has said before that she is entering the “final stretch” of her MMA career. Her last years in the sport are hardly plotted out, but she has some ideas for what could be next.
She cites wanting to fight in Bellator again and aiming to enact “revenge” on previous opponents. While she didn’t mention a name the only fighter in MMA that she has lost to and not defeated afterward is Kanna Asakura, who beat her twice between 2017 and 2018.
But the next step is not the focus for RENA until she gets past this weekend’s challenge.
“A lot of doors will open up after I get this win. But if I don’t get this win, nothing will open up so I’m not gonna mention any names until I get the win,” she said.
RENA’s first fight posed a clear question: how can she do against a wrestler. That time, she passed. Now years later, that question will be presented again before she enters the last stage of her career.