Last year, the United States began scaling back its visa program in Russia much to the chagrin of business travelers, students and tourists who hoped for easier access to go between the two countries.
The time to get a visa to travel from Russia to the United States began seeing extreme delays in processing time with only the Moscow consulate now processing those applications.
Even before those delays happened, several prominent mixed martial artists struggled to get visas traveling from Russia to the United States and it has prevented them from fighting on some of the bigger cards that take place overseas.
Ali Abdel-Aziz, who represents several top Russian fighters, says that’s part of the reason why certain fighters like his client Rustam Khabilov or fellow lightweight competitor Mairbek Taisumov struggle to get top named opponents because the UFC knows that if they can’t eventually get into the U.S., it’s going to become very tough to promote them.
“Look at the guys Rustam beat. Look at the names he beat. He beat a lot of big names. But I can’t sit here and demand a top 15 fighter because business wise and financially it doesn’t make sense for the UFC,” Abdel-Azia said. “I’m grateful that my guys are in the UFC even if they can’t get a visa.”
According to Abdel-Aziz, visa troubles nearly derailed another of his fighters from competing at this weekend’s UFC 220 card in Boston when Islam Makhachev was nearly pulled from his fight against Gleison Tibau.
It appeared Makhachev wouldn’t be able to secure a visa in time to get to the U.S. for the fight but at the last minute one was approved and his fight moved forward. Abdel-Aziz admits that was a rare case because most athletes won’t be that lucky.
“Islam’s fight was not going to happen. It was going to be moved to Brazil or something but we figured a way out. It’s the truth,” Abdel-Aziz said. “There’s a serious visa issue in Russia right now. What used to take two months takes six months now. The UFC’s not going to wait six months on a visa, they have to book fights now.
“I’m just grateful they’re in the UFC because if I’m a promoter, why would I give you a top 15 opponent if you can’t get into the U.S. right now? That’s the truth about the story.”
In the long run, Abdel-Aziz hopes the visa issue will get fixed so more of the fighters from Russia will be able to travel to the U.S. versus competing only in international matchups.
Still he knows that for now the fighters will have to play within the system and it may stop some of them from getting those top 15 opponents.
“I hope Rustam gets a visa and I hope Taisumov gets a visa because I think Russia produces some of the best fighters in the world,” Abdel-Aziz said.