Arts & Entertainment

Wrestling With Pride

Steph De Lander at Pro Wrestling Australia. Photo: New Photography Studios

When people think of wrestling there are a few key names which immediately spring to mind. Those names being Hulk Hogan, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena and Ric Flair. What these names often represent to people is a very macho, testosterone-fuelled world.

When it comes to our homegrown Australian talent and wrestling scene we should think of wrestling in a very different light. In particular, three local Sydney based performers are body slamming the macho stereotypes and proving that the LGBTQ community can be just as fierce, powerful and iconic as anybody else.

The three wrestlers at the forefront of the LGBTQ revolution in Australian wrestling are ‘The Python Powerhouse’ Steph De Lander, Silvio Milano and Nikki Van Blair. Whilst these three performers are still in the relatively early stages of their careers they have already helped to reshape the way wrestling promotions and fans view LGBTQ performers.

In the past wrestling tended to have very few LGBTQ characters portrayed on shows. And as a result, there were very few role models for young LGBTQ fans, which upon reflection Nikki Van Blair explained was difficult.

“It would have been nice to see a positive gay role model to identify with so that I didn’t feel like an outsider.”

Despite not having any LGBTQ role models Van Blair was unafraid to pursue his dream, and certainly didn’t feel it was necessary to hide his sexuality when he did so.

“The first day I walked into training I was myself 100%,” explained Van Blair, “I remember I had pink and blue hair, a top that I had tied up at the front and I was wearing my trademark tiny shorts.”

Whilst Van Blair was always open about his sexuality and received warmly by his trainers and fellow trainees that experience, unfortunately, wasn’t shared by Silvio Milano.

“I started training when I was 15 and wasn’t always open about my sexuality because I was obviously still very young and dealing with a lot of that inside myself,” recalled Milano. “I didn’t get much of an open vibe from trainers.”

Thankfully for Milano, there are multiple training schools available to aspiring wrestlers in Sydney and as such he was able to switch to a more accepting environment at the Pro Wrestling Academy.

“Once I got a lot more creative control and the people around me were a lot more accepting of my sexuality I was able to push further. Which made me realise why I wanted to stick with wrestling,” said Milano.

Also training at the Pro Wrestling Academy when Milano joined was another LGBTQ wrestler, Steph De Lander. Although it wasn’t until recently that De Lander revealed to the world via social media that she was in fact bisexual.

“I wouldn’t say that I actively hid it but I also didn’t really talk about it until around the time I made my post,” De Lander told City Hub before continuing, “I just reached a point where I didn’t want to have to feel like I had to lie about what I was doing. I felt like I’m 22 years old so I should be able to be in a relationship with whoever I want to be in a relationship with or do whatever I want to do without feeling like I have to now start being secretive.”

As open and proud LGBTQ performers De Lander, Milano and Van Blair have been at the forefront of acceptance and positive attitude changes within the wrestling community.

It’s not just the wrestling promotions which have made huge leaps forward though. As all of the performers City Hub spoke with explained the wrestling fanbase in Sydney is incredibly warm and welcoming for LGBTQ performers. Or as Milano explained with a bit of a giggle, “Wherever I wrestle now the reaction is incredible, and I don’t even have to do anything half the time. I feel that because I am so true to myself in my character and offer that fun perspective that helps people escape their own lives people have a different connection with me.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Van Blair, “companies that refuse to book LGBTQ wrestlers are only causing a detriment to themselves now because we’re doing so well at the moment. So to exclude that portion of wrestlers that could bring attention to your show means you’re also excluding a certain fanbase.”

The companies which have found success utilising LGBTQ performers have done so by being firmly on the front foot in regards to stamping out negative behaviour. Which has in turn seen the fan communities adopt this attitude themselves according to Milano, “it’s often the crowd that will act first and tell people who are saying awful things to shut up and then security will intervene and remove the troublemakers.”

Looking forward, the next step in the LGBTQ wrestling revolution will be the elimination of gender-based divisions. Which is something Pro Wrestling Australia (PWA) has been doing for some time informally, but only recently made formal when they made their women’s championship genderless. A move which according to De Lander can only be a positive step forward, “having fluidity between the championships and the fighters by not creating divisions based on gender is a very forward thing, and I hope that again this opens up more opportunities for people who are hesitant for whatever reason to start their career in wrestling.”

The progress of the Australian wrestling industry will be on show this weekend at PWA’s two-day event, Colosseum. As part of the Colosseum showcase, De Lander will be competing in a number one contenders match on night two.

PWA Black Label pres. Colosseum 2019

Oct 18-19. Max Watts, The Entertainment Quarter, Lang Rd, Moore Park. $24-$51.55+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.maxwattstickets.oztix.com.au

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