Long before the “Women’s Revolution” was introduced into the WWE, Natalya Neidhart brought a serious, realistic approach to wrestling.
Neidhart continues to bring a very unique skillset into the ring, but it is her passion and enthusiasm that has elevated her into a rare echelon of women’s wrestlers, which is something she credits to her uncle, Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
“Bret took his wrestling, his career, and his character—his entire vision—very seriously,” said Neidhart, whose father, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, teamed with Hart in the Hart Foundation. “Bret always said to me, ‘whenever the camera is on you, you have to make sure you give your very best work. No matter what, whether it’s a TV camera or a cell phone camera at a live event, a camera is a camera.’”
Neidhart is a 15-year wrestling veteran and is the first woman from the Hart family to wrestle in the WWE. The 34-year-old is competing at WrestleMania 33 for the SmackDown women’s championship, and she will watch with pride as her friend, former WWE Divas champion Beth Phoenix, is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Neidhart would be grateful to one day see the Hart Foundation also join the list of greats in the Hall of Fame.
“It would be so cool to see the Hart Foundation inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Neidhart. “When Uncle Bret got inducted, it was a perfect moment. When my grandfather Stu got inducted, it was a perfect moment. When my father gets inducted one day as part of the Hart Foundation, I would be honored to induct them.”
Neidhart grew up in a wrestling family, and also married a wrestler in 2013—TJ Wilson, who was known as Tyson Kidd in WWE. Kidd, Neidhart, and Cesaro were paired together near the end of 2014, and the partnership paid off exponentially for all three.
“Working with TJ and Cesaro helped all of us learn about content of character and quality of work,” said Neidhart. “Both TJ and Cesaro have so much integrity, and that’s both inside and out of the ring. I learned a lot from working with them, and a lot of what they taught me was listening to our audience and taking my time.”
Kidd’s momentum came to a grinding halt when he suffered a spinal injury in June of 2015 that was likely career-ending. While details surrounding the injury are scarce, Neidhart was willing to discuss how her husband continues to inspire her.
“I’ve known TJ since I was ten years old,” said Neidhart. “He grew up with my family and has been a huge part of my life. He’s actually one of my first wrestling teachers and taught me a lot in the Dungeon. TJ keeps me grounded. I learn so much from TJ every day. He is an exceptional person and he’s just been focused on his recovery, and I would say, like life, it’s one day at a time.”
5% of people survive this injury. 16 staples, 4 screws and a rod later and luckily I survived to tell my story. pic.twitter.com/hXpXpA0aAF
Neidhart’s marriage with Kidd has been detailed on the Total Divas television show, as well as in other glimpses behind the curtain of her life away from the ring.
“Total Divas shows people that we’re real,” said Neidhart. “We laugh, cry, and make mistakes. I’m not perfect, and I like when people can see that. It’s a cool way for people to get a glimpse inside of our lives. We do a whole lot more in WWE than headlocks and dropkicks—it’s about lifting people up and empowering others. I love being able to show that human side, whether it’s at a children’s hospital or on a reality show. There is really nothing like that.”
WrestleMania 33 presents a major opportunity for Neidhart, as she competes in a multi-woman match for the WWE SmackDown women’s title.
“I want to be the SmackDown women’s champion, and I will be the SmackDown women’s champion,” said Neidhart. “I truly feel that hard work will pay off, and I’m grateful for the opportunity this year at WrestleMania.”
Neidhart was brought up on a serious style of wrestling that taught her to highlight her opponent, which is a rare skill among wrestlers but was perfected by Bret Hart.
“So many people, including Steve Austin, attribute the turning point in their careers to Bret,” said Neidhart. “I remember Steve saying that his WrestleMania 13 match with Bret helped him see something remarkable in himself, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be like Bret. He believed in who he was, he believed in his work in the ring, and he believed in a level of excellence.
“Looking back on my NXT rivalry with Charlotte, I don’t think she really knew what she had inside of her until we worked together. That was one of the greatest moments of my entire career. I was able to not only lift myself up but also lift somebody else up. With my experience of fifteen years of almost being in the ring, I have the ability to pass on my knowledge, and I love doing that.”
While the WWE has elevated the role of its women wrestlers, there are still far too few competitors and audiences often watch repeated viewings of the same match-ups. Neidhart was asked if there are plans in place for the WWE to continue to enhance the women’s division.
“If there is a tournament for women, I’d love to be in it,” said Neidhart regarding the rumored women’s tournament spearheaded by Paul “Triple H” Levesque. “I was at NXT all the time and given that opportunity by Triple H, so if they want me to be part of a women’s tournament, I’d be happy to own that tournament and be the best thing they’ve ever seen. You can count me in if I’m invited.
“Opportunities have opened up for the girls to really shine. We’ve made so much growth in the past year, and I’ve got so many compliments about the compelling storylines on Smackdown, which is what I’m on, and Raw. That Hell in a Cell match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks was groundbreaking. I can’t wait to work with Sasha Banks, I haven’t had a chance to work with her yet. I’m just so proud of how far we’ve come in the last year alone.”
Neidhart is also writing an opinion column for theCalgary Sun, adding to a whirlwind schedule. In her free time, she noted that she enjoys watching, naturally, the WWE Network with her husband.
“TJ and I are obsessed with the WWE Network,” said Neidhart. “We joke that we should do infomercials for it. My dad will come over and we’ll pull up his old matches, and he’ll ask, ‘Where are you getting this old footage?’ And I’ll say, ‘Daddy, it’s the Network!’”
Neidhart’s feud in NXT with Charlotte Flair was a significant step toward taking women’s wrestling more seriously on the WWE main roster, and she now hopes that her work on Smackdown with Nikki Bella helped introduce audiences to her skillset as an antagonist.
“When I look at my feud with Nikki Bella, it really was about me,” explained Neidhart. “That story was about Nattie turning the corner as a ‘Bad Girl’, and a lot of my character development in the last six-to-eight months on WWE programming has been me evolving from a lovable babyface into a despicable bad girl. I truly believe it was my feud with Nikki that allowed me to show the world that I can play the part of someone who is conniving and malicious.
“Whenever you get an opportunity in WWE, you want to hit a home run with it. I want to show that I can be great, and that rivalry with Nikki was a turning point in proving myself to our WWE audience.”
As for her goals for 2017, Neidhart plans on continuing to elevate the women’s division – and do so, she promised, with herself as champion.
“We are on the road to WrestleMania right now, and we’re on a roll with women’s empowerment,” said Neidhart. ‘It’s all about continuing to move forward. I love this new column I’m writing for the Calgary Sun, and I never take my status in WWE for granted. Our fans are the most passionate group of people, and I have nothing but love and gratitude for them.”