Ice Wars — All Of The Fighting, None Of The Hockey — Set For US Debut In Cheyenne

There are only two states where "Ice Wars" is sanctioned. Wyoming and Florida. The new sport, which is just two guys beating the crap out of each other while wearing skates, will debut in the United States in Cheyenne on July 15.

Jake Nichols

July 02, 20238 min read

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Remember the old Rodney Dangerfield quip? It goes: “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.”

It came to personify the level of violence that could be expected at your average hockey game. Well, times have changed, and so has the game which has all but eliminated fighting.

Still, for many fans, fighting in hockey is their favorite part. Never mind the goals and the score and all that other nonsense. Fans come to their feet when the gloves come off, says Ice Wars event president Charlie Nama.

Ice Wars 3 will make its U.S. debut in Cheyenne in two weeks, and sports fans have never seen anything like this.

All Fighting, No Hockey

Ice Wars is the latest in combat sports vying for mainstream attention. It is hockey boiled down to one of its most exciting components, according to many fans — fighting.

After two previous events in western Canada, Ice Wars will come to the Outlaw Saloon in Cheyenne on July 15. VIP tables sold out the moment the event was announced. Limited seating remains.

Florida is the only other state to sanction Ice Wars. Nama chose the Cowboy State because of his close relationship with Bryan Pedersen, founder of the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission. Pedersen is a former MMA fighter and state legislator, and the guy responsible for keeping the state open for business during the pandemic, hosting 13 combat sport events in Cheyenne without a single incident.

“I promised Bryan the first U.S. event would be in Cheyenne. I know he’s hoping the city, the state, will be the home base for this growing sport,” Nama said.

Rules Of The Rink

Nama’s signature “Ice Box” — a 900-square-foot mobile arena with the latest in synthetic ice — is on its way to Cheyenne this week. It is slightly larger than a typical MMA octagon or boxing ring to allow for a little more maneuverability. But, like in hockey, once the fighters clinch, it’s on.

The bouts consist of two 1-minute rounds. Most end in a knockout of some type by the end of these but, if for some reason judges cannot decide who the winner after 120 seconds, the fight will go to a third and final “ice-breaker” round.

Contestants are required to wear a hockey helmet with special straps that will not allow the helmet to come off. They also wear 4-ounce MMA-style gloves that still allows for some monster blows but helps reduce abrasions to the fighters’ knuckles from his opponent’s helmet.

Fighters are carefully screened and ranked by committee from a long list of applicants. Nama says they are looking for past experience in any combat sport or martial arts, as well as former hockey enforcers who made their living as pugilists more than pucksters.

“PIMs are usually good indication we have a guy who will give us a good show,” Nama said, referring to penalty minutes a player received in his career. “We are also looking for the right personalities for this sport.”

Guys like former Ice Wars champion Daniel Amesbury. The 32-year-old minor league journeyman racked up 2,093 PIMs in only 299 career games. Let’s just say the 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman wasn’t on the ice for his scoring ability.

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Who’s Who In Ice Wars

Current Ice Wars champ Justin Schmit tweeted, “We head into Cheyenne July 15 ... preparing for hell. I am so blessed to be able to compete against some of the greatest minor league legends. This is gonna be a bloodbath in Cheyenne.”

For now, it is mainly hockey players who can be considered a legitimate threat in the Ice Box. Without a skating background, combatants will be lost against a guy who knows how to fight while balancing on a 1/8-inch blade of steel.

“Right now, we have nobody with a non-hockey background. I would find it hard to imagine we would see someone excel who is learning to skate after learning to fight. Hockey fighting is an art of its own,” Nama said.

Nama has surrounded himself with an impressive team. Former Flyer heavyweight Chris Therien is the Ice Wars regular announcer. He’s often joined by Ice Wars executive producer Kato Kaelin, who sits in for color commentary now and then.

Kaelin says he’s longtime friends with Nama, and when he heard about the idea to have hockey fights without a hockey he knew he had to be involved.

“Charlie’s one of those people that when they come up with an idea you already know it’s going to be good. This one was not just a homerun, but a grand slam,” Kaelin said. “Certain things are best when they are a 10-second elevator pitch. Simple, uncomplicated.”

The idea was so inviting, he says, he couldn’t believe no one was doing it yet.

“Why has no one thought of this? You’ve’ got MMA, UFC why not hockey fighting?” Kaelin said. “I think this is the biggest baddest art form: skating and fighting at the same time.”

Raised in Wisconsin, Kaelin grew up on skates and has a respect for ice hockey. He admits most everyone he knows love to see the fights and guys “beat each other up.”

Former NHL Stars Involved

Scott Parker, who played most of his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche and won a Stanley Cup with that team in the 2000-01 season, is also very much involved in promoting Ice Wars.

Parker talked about how the National Hockey League is trying to “demonize the role of the enforcer,” a feared fighter on nearly every team who kept everyone else accountable for their actions.

“They’ve taken away from what the sport really is. Now they want the refs to police the game, and they try, but they can’t see everything,” Parker said. “When a team has someone on the bench who is just a killer, it keeps everyone in line.”

Without the context of a hockey game would Ice Wars make any sense? In the sport of ice hockey, fights are sometimes “staged” between heavyweights should a team be playing flat and looking for a bit of a spark, or when a game gets a little chippy and a couple of bruisers feel like they need to be the main event to calm things down. Would two guys want to beat on each other without a buildup?

“I think you can. There were times even in NHL when I was not into it. You have to be able to teach your body to be able to flip that switch,” Parker said. “Sometimes I would let a guy get in the first few shots to sort of wake me up. ‘OK, now you poked the bear, it’s on.’ Once the bell rings. It’ll be go time.”

Parker will be in Cheyenne for Ice Wars 3. He’ll be in the corner of one of the circuit favorites, Travis “Loose Cannon” Cech, who survived an all-out war with Malcolm “The Hammer” Huemmert in Ice Wars 2.

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The Strategy

Parker says he’ll share everything he learned in juniors where he fought his way up the ranks with the Kelowna Clowns, racking up a staggering 330 penalty minutes in the 1996-97 season alone.

“There’s huge strategy involved, really,” Parker said. “I equate it to boxing where you got two guys feeling each other out in the early rounds or, in this case, fir the first 20 seconds.

“And a minute can be a long time for some guys to be fighting. Some guys have unbelievable cardio while other guys have none but they are strong as an ox. It will be interesting to see how prepared guys will be.”

Therien also felt motivation to scrap would not be a factor.

“In the game, maybe you fought after a dirty hit. With Ice Wars, it’s more about a culture. A sense of wanting to know who is the toughest?” Therien said. “Ice Wars gives some of these guys — who are pretty well adept and giving and taking punishment — a second chance. The game passed them by but they still enjoy that combat aspect.”

Therien remembers the days when the hockey enforcer had a persona that translated off the ice as well, similar to the old WWF full of lovable and hate-able characters.

“You will see more of their personalities in this sport. We have characters. We have guys you will really, really like. You’ll find yourself picking favorites,” Therien said.

How To Watch

The Ice Wars 3 main event will feature an eight-man round-robin style competition, with each round getting progressively more difficult, and the lone survivor taking home $15,000 after being crowned “King of the Rink.”

 Don't worry if you can't make it to the Outlaw Saloon in Wyoming, ICE WARS 3 will also be livestreamed and available on pay-per-view worldwide to more than 200 countries. Visit the Ice Wars website for more information.

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter