Featured Image by New Photography
Many will have come to know her as FaceBrooke, one part of Sydney-based wrestling team SMS. But now, we get to meet the woman behind the mask, Steph De Lander, as she makes her come back from injury.
Growing up, Steph was a self-confessed tom boy. She preferred the company of her older brother and his friends, which led her to discover WWE on TV at ten years old. She briefly lost interest, before coming back around again as high school came to a close. ‘I think you get to an age where it’s suddenly not cool [to like wrestling], around that 15-year-old mark. Everyone’s insecure and you’re so concerned with being cool that you lose some of the things that you love, but I’m glad that I got back into it,’ she says.
The landscape of mainstream women’s wrestling had totally changed by the time Steph resumed her fandom. She explains, ‘When I was a kid, my favourite female wrestlers were Mickie James and Trish Stratus. As a ten-year-old, I didn’t understand the way that women were being portrayed [in WWE] wasn’t the most productive thing as far as being athletes. Fast forward to 2015 when I got back into it, where women were having competitive matches and women’s wrestling was such a big thing that it felt like a really good time to start training.’
‘I always wanted to wrestle, but I didn’t feel like I was fit enough, or skinny enough, or pretty enough, or athletic enough.’
After returning to her forgotten love, Steph decided she was finally going to take to the ring at 18, after some encouragement from her mum. ‘My mum said to me, “You’ve been saying your whole life that you’re going to be a wrestler. Why don’t you go for it now?”’ That’s when I found the Pro Wrestling Australia training school, through a friend who referred me to there.’ That was in October 2015, and a year and a half on, FaceBrooke made her in-ring debut.
The masked wrestler became a hit in Australia and abroad, but it wasn’t exactly what Steph had imagined for herself. ‘I was never planning on being a Luchadore. It’s not like I grew up and Rey Mysterio was my favourite wrestler and I had a fixation with Luchadores. It wasn’t like that.’
‘When I was a kid [imagining] what my character would be, it was never FaceBrooke.’
Steph explains how an opportunity presented itself in the form of FaceBrooke: ‘We had this group called SMS in PWA – Unsocial Jordan and Snapchad and InstaGraham – who wanted to add a fourth member called “FaceBrooke” and they wanted to have a female do it. It was put forward to me and the timing was perfect. I saw it as a good opportunity to get myself on shows and to be part of a group.’
The Luchadore mask has a lot of cultural significance in countries like Mexico and Japan. In a western, or even Japanese context, rookies are sometimes given masks as a means to a character early in their career. ‘At PWA, we’re very Lucha based – We have a good base around the Lucha style of training. We have more Lucha characters than most other promotions in Australia,’ Steph explains. Being one of the few masked female wrestlers in Australia, one of whom is Azaelia, helped set FaceBrooke apart.
FaceBrooke made it all the way to the US to compete in Shimmer, quickly becoming one of Australia’s most well-known independent exports. Understandably, she took her time deliberating with mentors about her future. She reflects, ‘It definitely wasn’t something I took lightly. I spoke it through with a lot of different people and pretty much everyone assured me that I’d be fine. It definitely was scary, change is always scary but that’s where you grow.’
‘I knew that eventually I would unmask and move on to something else, but it was a good way to start off my career.’
Steph enjoyed her time as FaceBrooke, but she knew that she could be more. ‘Being under a mask, I could play with different ideas and feel things out. It was a good teething period, but it never felt like my final character,’ she says. Steph was undecided about when she would eventually leave FaceBrooke behind. She found herself needing shoulder surgery after an injury in April 2018, writing her off wrestling for ten months.
Upon her recovery, the timing felt right to make a change. She’s since debuted as Steph De Lander for Melbourne City Wrestling’s G.IRL women’s promotion. ‘FaceBrooke felt quite distant from who I was as a person… Steph De Lander is very close to who I am. Steph is loosely based on a zoo keeper kind of Steve Irwin vibe with a bit of glam. I’m not super 80s over the top, “I’m a plumber!” kind of thing… As far as my in-ring style, it’s still that powerhouse move set. Nothing flashy, I’m not doing any crazy flips or dives, just really strong power-based moves.’
Getting to work alongside her Australian peers has been a highlight in Steph’s young career: ‘Week in and week out, the guys and girls at the PWA Academy are hustling. I’ve only been wrestling for a couple of years, plus there’s a lot of the newer people coming up. But talent like Robbie Eagles, Shazza McKenzie, Madison Eagles, and Mick Moretti, they’ve been wrestling for 10+ years and they’re just starting to get the recognition for all that work,’ she says.
‘We’ve got a really good team here [in PWA] that’s more of a family.’
‘I got to Shimmer and there was six or eight Australians in the locker room on the other side of the world and we’re all great friends. To be able to look around and go, “I get to travel the world doing what I love doing with my best friends,” that’s pretty cool.’ Steph is especially grateful for her the women in her wrestling life: ‘Just having the ability to have matches with wrestlers like Madison Eagles or Shazza McKenzie and Kellyanne regularly – seasoned, veteran wrestlers – that is a personal highlight.’
With goals to travel interstate and build up her new persona at home and abroad, Steph has her long-term sights set on the WWE. She even has a dream match in mind: ‘My dream match would be myself and my best friend Indi Hartwell versus Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. They [Billie and Peyton] came from the PWA training academy. They started as best friends and they’ve made it all the way together. I’m on that journey now.’
Steph’s Wrestling Idols
‘I idolise Chyna for everything she did for females. She broke down a lot of barriers and she was the first woman to do a lot of things in the WWE. Being a bigger female and a stronger woman, as a powerhouse myself, I look up to her.’
‘Jessica Troy is amazing. She’s the most underrated wrestler in Australia. She is such a talented athlete and a wonderful person. I think she’s going to be really successful.’