What can the MMA world expect from Rena Kubota?

For many old school fans, predicting the MMA success of converts from other sports is one of the most uniquely interesting aspects of the sport. There are endless forum pages discussing how the likes of Dan Gable or Bruce Le do if they stepped into the MMA cages or rings. In some instances, these conversions actually take place and fans can actually see an Olympic gold medal winner wrestler like Henry Cejudo or a judo medalist like Ronda Rousey compete in the UFC.

StrikeScoreMMA has devoted, probably unwisely, an inordinate amount of time and resources to statistical models that predict the success or failure of these conversions from other sports. It is probably unwise, because ultimately different sports are just that, different. You could be a slightly above average wrestler like T.J. Dillashaw and go on to be a dominant UFC champion. However, that will not stop StrikeScoreMMA from trying.

On New Year's Eve, Rena Kubota will make her MMA debut. Kubota is a long-time veteran of sport of Shoot Boxing and a four-time winner of the Girls S-Cup, an annual tournament to determine the best in the sport. What is Shoot Boxing? For those that do not know, Shoot Boxing, which is often described as "standing vale tudo," is basically an MMA fight that is immediately restarted when it ends up on the ground. Fighters can go for standing submissions, takedowns and even point scoring high-amplitude throws. 

MMA fighters often compete in the promotion with varying degrees of success. At the 2010 S-Cup, Bellator veteran Toby Imada defeated Takaaki Umeno and Andy Souwer to unexpectedly reach the finals before losing to Buakaw Por. Pramuk

In 2011, Kubota welcomed Jessica Penne to Shoot Boxing. The American fighter pulled off the upset in her only fight for the promotion to date. Three years later, Penne went on the compete on the 20th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and eventually challenge for the promotion's flyweight strap. Robert Sargent, the guru of women's MMA, described the bout at MMARising.

Bellator veteran Jessica Penne scored a significant upset this evening in her shoot boxing debut in Tokyo, Japan. Penne earned a Majority Decision win over promotional postergirl Rena Kubota after a pair of extension rounds in a razor-thin bout at Shoot Boxing: “Act.4” at the famed Korakuen Hall.

After three back-and-forth rounds where both fighters landed solid strikes, Kubota looked to take control in the first extension round, but the bout was again ruled a Draw. In the fifth and final round, Penne earned a Shoot Point for a high-arc throw and that was just enough to win on two scorecards.
— Robert Sargent

Penne, despite being one of the best women's flyweights in the world, is not much of a striker. In fact, her ability to close the distance and score takedowns against Kubota should be rather concerning for the Japanese fighter. However, even though Kubota lost the close decision, she thoroughly dominated the striking portion of the fight through the first four rounds. Shoot Boxing judges have a bit of a reputation of leaning towards promotional favorites. However, it does not appear that they did Kubota any favors here.

StrikeScore for Rena Kubota vs. Jessica Penne Shoot Boxing Act. 4 2011

Since Shoot Boxing takes place entirely on the feet. We can compare the numbers that Kubota put up against Penne with her standing performance in other fights. The Fight Metric database contains stats from all of Penne's UFC and Invicta FC bouts.

Standing StrikeScore for Jessica Penne in Invicta FC, UFC and Shoot Boxing

Kubota actually performed better, striking wise, than all but two of Penne's opponents in Invicta FC and UFC. Those also happen to be the only two opponents to defeat her. Kubota's striking numbers are actually very similar to the numbers that Randa Markos put up against Penne. That contest, which took place at the TUF 20 Finale, was a back and forth fight that Penne ultimately won via split decision.

In order to be successful in MMA, Kubota will need to work on her takedown defense. Despite her striking success in the 2011 fight, she was taken down 16 times over the course of the 15 minute fight. If she can get that in order, which is always a big if for fighters coming from a primarily striking background, Kubota should be able flex her striking game the way she did against Penne who is currently ranked third in the UFC rankings.