By: Reece Hooker
Special to POST Wrestling
It took less than a year from Steph De Lander’s (fka Persia Pirotta) NXT release for the “The Baddest Bitch on the Indies” to completely reinvent herself.
De Lander, who has also appeared in Ring of Honor, Impact, and on AEW Dark, is set to return home as part of GCW’s first Australian tour, in which they’ll be partnering with Melbourne-based independent Renegades of Wrestling.
When De Lander joins the Zoom call from her residence in Orlando, she’s tired — her body’s been through four time zones in three weeks — but says she’s “loving it”.
“I’m having the best time of my life. This is exactly what I needed out of this independent run,” she says.
“When I got released from WWE, I knew a huge part of the next step of my career was going to be getting into GCW because it’s the biggest independent in the world and nowhere else even comes close.“
De Lander tried to crack GCW many times since her WWE release in April 2022 but says she didn’t hear back from the promotion’s booker, Brett Lauderdale: “Brett was literally just ignoring me, which he does to everyone, and he still does half the time.”
“I don’t take it personally. I don’t let someone ignoring me or a ‘no’ be the end of the story … I’ll find another way to worm my way around it and get in anyway.”
De Lander’s chance came at an unexpected juncture — a four-date Australian tour with local independent World Series Wrestling, which featured former GCW world champion, Matt Cardona.
“We had met each other, I think once at an Impact show, but nothing more than ‘hi’, we never had a conversation,” De Lander said.
“And then he literally just came up to me halfway through the tour and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to work with me on the indies?’”
Things moved fast — De Lander interfered in Cardona’s match on the last show on the tour and cut her visit home short by a week to fly back to the US, telling her parents:
“You guys don’t understand this yet, but there is not a single person on the indies that I would have rather chosen to work with. I don’t understand how I’ve fallen into this position, but this was the best-case scenario for my career. And I know this is going to be really big.”
But De Lander’s GCW debut almost fell apart before it even happened — she says Lauderdale initially refused to put her on the show, despite Cardona’s insistence.
“Matt actually flew me in, put me in a hotel, and paid my fee the first weekend,” she says.
“Matt paid for all of it because he was like, ‘I know this is going to work and Brett just needs to fucking see you. And then he’s going to be like, ‘Oh, holy shit.’’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
The Steph De Lander we’ve seen in GCW bears little in common with her NXT presentation as Persia Pirotta, the bubbly best friend of Indi Hartwell and love interest of Duke Hudson.
This iteration of De Lander is acerbic, and playful but venomous. She cites comedian Bert Kreischer as one of the unlikely inspirations behind her wrestling rebirth, which came together during a post-WWE break from wrestling.
“Why is Bert Kreischer so over? Why do people love him?” she asks.
“I realized it’s because he’s unapologetically himself. He shows the vulnerability of the sides of his character and his personality which aren’t flattering. He shows shit that people can relate to.”
De Lander became unapologetically herself: no longer trying to emulate the gravitas of WWE Superstars like Roman Reigns and Charlotte Flair, instead leaning into her natural predisposition — funny, brash, and confident.
“It’s funny to me that I had to find that in something that wasn’t wrestling and take it from comedy,” she says. “But that’s unlocked a lot for me.”
De Lander is a featured player in GCW, competing against Masha Slamovich for the promotion’s world championship in her first official booking and appearing in seven more matches for them since April.
Returning to Australia sans Cardona as one of the promotion’s headline attractions is a testament to how fast De Lander has become an established part of the GCW roster in her own right.
Matt Cardona had some help in his match with Homicide at #GCWEye last Friday in NYC.
Steph de Lander interfered, helping Cardona to steal the victory…
— GameChangerWrestling (@GCWrestling_) March 23, 2023
“It was important to me to be a part of the first GCW Australia tour and be able to wave the Australian flag,” she says.
“It’s always a cool feeling to be able to go back to Australia and show the up-and-coming wrestlers or the trainees, like, hey, I was in your guys’ shoes, the exact same position. And if you guys want to get to the level that I’m at, it is possible.”
In Sydney, De Lander will be competing for gold on August 25th as she takes on Renegades of Wrestling Women’s Champion Aysha in a triple threat with Newcastle’s Lena Kross.
“Yeah, Aysha’s gonna get squashed. She’s just not gonna have a good time,” De Lander laughs.
“Lena Kross is one of my best friends. We’re very, very similar in a lot of different ways, like wrestling style and personality.
“We always have a sneaky banger every single time we have a match together, but it’s been a few years since we’ve been in the ring. So, you know, I’ve developed a lot. She’s developed a lot. Aysha’s developed a lot.”
“There’s a lot of moving parts in that match, you’ve got two giants and one tiny girl. So it’ll be a very interesting dynamic.”
De Lander knows whenever she returns to Australia, she’s seen as a pro wrestling success story. At 26, she’s already conquered the difficult leap across the pond and made a name for herself in North America.
“I always, always had a plan and I always laid out exactly what I wanted to do. And I knew where I wanted to go and I knew how I wanted to get there,” she says.
“There’s no way to say it without sounding like I have an ego, but it only makes sense that if someone has what you want, you would look at what they did and try and emulate that.”
“So, it doesn’t surprise me that people are following what I’ve done because I followed what the people before me did.”
De Lander maps out each step of her plan as she had it years ago.
“From the day I started training, it was like every single thing was a step: Okay, we’re training. Okay, now we need to get on a show. All right, now I’m on a show. How do I get to the shows in a different state?”
“Now I’ve gone interstate, now I’m in Melbourne. How do I get to Adelaide? Now I’ve gone to Adelaide. How do I get to Perth? Okay, cool. So now I’ve kind of conquered Australia, how the fuck do I get to America?”
“Within WWE, there are a lot of confines of, you know, you can’t say certain things. You can’t do certain things,” De Lander said.
“I was so concerned about not saying the wrong thing in an interview or on Twitter or in any way that could get me in trouble that I felt like I ended up muting myself a lot.”
“I didn’t really know how to connect to Persia. When we were doing those promos, obviously I wasn’t writing any of my lines.
“Of course, that’s normal, but I didn’t have the experience to be able to take someone else’s verbiage and deliver it in a natural way. I had never done a day of acting in my life at that point.”
But De Lander says her WWE run “tested and pushed” her in the ways she needed, teaching her “a lot of important lessons”.
In particular, De Lander describes being counseled by NXT coach Scotty 2 Hotty after an overwhelming day at the Performance Center left her in tears.
“He was like, ‘Steph, none of this shit matters. As long as your boss is happy and you’re happy, you need to stop worrying so much about everything else because wrestling is meant to be fun and it’s not going to be fun if you worry about all of that stuff.’”
De Lander has taken the advice to heart and found it creatively rewarding, as well as financially. While WrestleMania remains a dream at some point, De Lander says her run on the independents has given her a newfound sense of freedom.
“I’m loving wrestling more than I’ve ever loved it before and I’m also making the most money I’ve ever made. To want to change this and go sign a contract anywhere, it has to be worth it to me.”
GCW vs Renegades of Wrestling:
- Friday, August 25: Sydney, New South Wales @ Roundhouse
- Saturday, August 26: Melbourne, Victoria @ Melbourne Pavilion
- Sunday, August 27: Brisbane, Queensland @ Eaton Hill Hotel
About Reece Hooker