Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is showing her support for UFC strawweight champion Weili Zhang after she was denied entry into the United States recently due to visa issues.
The presidential candidate, who’s a military veteran and lifelong martial arts enthusiast, released a statement to MMA Fighting after Weili revealed her travel visa was denied as she planned a trip to the U.S. for a media tour following her stunning first round knockout against Jessica Andrade in August to win the 115-pound title.
“Sports has always played such an important role in breaking down barriers between nations and people and increasing global cultural exchange,” Rep. Gabbard said in the statement. “I’ve practiced martial arts since I was a kid and am glad to see how as mixed martial arts is becoming a global phenomena with platforms like the UFC and others, it is creating a sense of community with fighters and fans from around the world. This is increasing understanding, building friendships and providing the platform for people to appreciate how much we have in common, despite our cultural/racial/ethnic/political differences.
“I hope the US State Department recognizes the value that fighters like Zhang Weili bring to this effort, who herself has made history and broken down barriers through own accomplishments, by allowing her to come and join other UFC fighters and fans from across the US and around world for the upcoming UFC Fight Night in Boston.”
The Chinese superstar initially revealed in an Instagram post on Monday that her visa had been denied and she had no idea why the U.S. government wasn’t allowing her to travel into the country.
“My American visa was refused again,” Zhang wrote on Instagram. “I don’t know why.Is it the wrong type of visa I should apply for? Or because I’m a single woman? Or is the visa officer in a bad mood at work today?
“I hope this can be resolved so I can visit and get to meet some of my new friends and fans in America. We are still working on it and hope to have good news in time for me to make the trip on Oct. 15.”
According to her manager, Brian Butler of Suckerpunch Entertainment, Zhang had previously traveled to the United States under a work visa but this time she applied as a visitor because she was only coming for a media tour that included a visit to the New England Patriots’ practice as well as attending the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Boston.
“She had P1 visa to come here but that’s because she was competing and getting paid so she needed the work visa,” Butler explained when speaking to MMA Fighting on Monday. “Apparently you have to get that redone every single time you come here from China and she didn’t realize that because she was coming to visit with no work involved.
“She went to apply for a B1 tourist visa and that may be the reason a flag got raised, we’re not sure yet. We’re trying to figure it all out.”
Butler says that the UFC’s legal team is currently working to get the situation sorted out because it was the U.S. that flagged her visa request and denied Zhang entry into the country.
“We’re trying to sort it out right now and to figure out what’s going on if there was some communication issues or what it was that caused the flag to raise to get her denied,” Butler said. “The UFC has their legal department working on it as we speak and Tulsi [Gabbard] reached out to me directly when she saw it. She said she’s having her office make a call to see if there’s anything she can do to help. She’s a very down to Earth woman and she’s a huge MMA fan as well.
“Hopefully it was just a misunderstanding and we can get it cleared up and get her here for the media tour.”
There is no current time table on how long it will take for Zhang’s visa issues to be sorted out, but the hope is she will still be able to travel in time to visit the United States next week.