Six months ago, Cheyenne’s Bryan Pedersen, a former MMA fighter and state legislator, said he wanted to bring professional ice-fighting to Wyoming.
On Tuesday, he delivered.
Pedersen, founder of the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission and the person responsible for hosting the first legal American bareknuckle fighting event since the 1800s, said ice fighting is exactly what the name implies: fighting on ice.
“It’s everything we love about hockey – the fighting,” Pedersen said. “Fighting only. And right here in Wyoming.”
Pedersen said because the NHL has all but removed fighting from the matches, this new sport replaces what fans really want.
“Back in the day, each team had an enforcer and you knew there would be some great fights,” Pedersen said. “So, this sport is all enforcers.”
Sanctioned Ice Fighting
Of course, fighting on ice has been around forever. But last May, the first sanctioned ice-fighting event happened in Edmonton, Alberta.
It was dubbed “Ice Wars I” and it featured an eight-man tournament and two “grudge match” bouts, all using MMA gloves and full hockey gear (minus the sticks) — with each tournament consisting of two 1-minute rounds.
And Pedersen was involved. The Wyoming Combat Sports Commission was asked to regulate it. That’s because of the reputation of Wyoming’s commission.
“They contacted us, and we have a rule that says if we can do it safely and there is some precedent for regulating the sport, we can do it, so we worked with them for the promulgation of rules,” he said.
Now Ice Wars International — the name of the league — wants to come to the U.S. and Wyoming is the logical first stop.
“Places all over the country have wanted to host it because it was such a huge success in Canada, but they chose Wyoming,” Pedersen said. “They know us.”
Pedersen said “Ice Wars 3” is slated for March 4 at the Ice and Events Center in Cheyenne.
Ice Wars CEO Charlie Nama said making the first U.S. appearance in Wyoming was a logical conclusion.
“The Wyoming people have been great to us,” Nama said. “And I think this is something that will fit well into the culture of Wyoming. It’s a rugged area.”
Nama said the Wyoming fans will appreciate that the fights are real and the competitors — all former hockey players — are a “tough breed.”
“Hockey players are tough,” Nama said. “They are a different type of competitor. They’ll fight hard but they’ll have a handshake afterwards and grab a beer.”
If prior combat sports events at the Cheyenne rink are any indication, getting a crowd there should be no problem. It’s hosted sellouts and near-sellouts every time.
But the big opportunity is through online streaming.
The first bareknuckle event, which was held in 2019 in Cheyenne, was viewed by more than 100 million people across the world.
A year ago, Pedersen hosted the world Lethwei title fight at the Ice and Events Center. Lethwei, the national sport of Myanmar, is a combat sport that allows the use of fists, knees, elbows, feet, clinches and headbutts.
The match drew more than 3.1 million stream views.
“When you hear ‘Live from Wyoming,’ we don’t have enough money in the state tourism board to be in front of 3.1 million people in a two-hour time period,” Pedersen said.
“People are going to think about going to see Cheyenne Frontier Days, Thermopolis, Yellowstone, Cody or whatever,” he said. “It’s a great way to get our name out.”
As for the event, expect excitement.
Nama said the crowd was “ecstatic” at the first two events because there’s no break.
“The fighters and the fans really thrive on the fast game that it presents because it’s non stop action,” Nama said.
He said it’s not like boxing where there are 12 rounds and three minutes between each round.
“These guys have two one-minute rounds to present themselves and the title fights have three one-minute rounds,” he said. “It’s fast and furious and the fans are on their feet.”
“95% of the time it’s fighting,” he said. “There is very little downtime.”
Jeff Gillotti, the manager of the Ice and Events Center, said he’s looking forward to hosting the contest.
“It’s another sport on ice and we love that,” Gillotti said, while driving a Zamboni at the facility.
“I’m a big hockey fan, but have always thought if they could just eliminate the puck, and the net, and the skating, it would be a perfect sport. And they’ve done it,” he said. “Can’t wait.”
Pedersen said ice fighting athletes are different from standard MMA fighters because they have to have a foundation in skating.
“If you can’t skate, you won’t be able to compete,” Pedersen said. “Most are former hockey players. They know what they’re doing.”
There will be 16-20 contestants, Pedersen said, in a variety of weight classes from 175 to 205 pounds.
There are no plans now for a super-sized weight class of skaters between 300 and 500 pounds, but if they had the contestants it could happen.
He said that weight class might be considered the “whaling division” in honor of the now defunct Hartford Whalers.
Tickets will go on sale in January.