Canadian WWE star 'Natalya' Neidhart blazes new trails for women in wrestling
Alexandra Mae Jones, CTVNews.ca with a report from CTV News's Sandie Rinaldo
Published Saturday, August 10, 2019 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, August 10, 2019 10:29PM EDT
Natalie Neidhart may be part of a wrestling dynasty, but as the powerhouse ‘Natalya,’ she is forging her own story in women’s wrestling.
Ahead of this year’s WWE SummerSlam wrestling extravaganza, being held Sunday at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Neidhart sat down with CTV News’s Sandie Rinaldo to talk about her family’s wrestling legacy, women in wrestling and her plans to defeat fellow superstar Becky Lynch.
A winner of both WWE’s Divas Championship and WWE’s SmackDown Women’s, Neidhart comes from a long line of professional wrestlers.
The Calgary-born wrestler makes up the third generation of wrestlers from the “Hart” lineage. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Stu Hart, trained well known wrestling stars, and his eight sons all went on to be wrestlers, two of them gaining significant fame in the pro-wrestling world.
“When your uncle is Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, one of the greatest superstars in the history of WWE and a Canadian icon, it's hard,” Neidhart told CTV News.
The pressure, she added, came not from her family members, but from her own desire to “be great.”
“Wrestling is in my blood,” she said. “Growing up, we didn't have a sandbox in our backyard. We had a wrestling ring.”
But carrying on her family’s legacy in the ring was not a foregone conclusion.
Her father, Jim Neidhart, did not want her to get into the sport at first. As a former wrestler, he’d seen how tough the industry could be for women.
“I was his baby girl,” Neidhart said. “So he always tried to protect me … my Dad didn’t want me getting hurt because at that time it was more of a man’s world.”
But the face of professional wrestling is changing in favour of women.
At last year’s WrestleMania, women were the main event for the first time in 35 years, with Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair serving as the headliners.
“Right now, there's a women's evolution in WWE and the women are really at the forefront,” Neidhart said. “For the first time ever in the industry … the girls are front and center.”
Neidhart believes the draw of women in wrestling is that “women are more emotional,” — flipping a common insult used against women in sports on its head.
“I think the women are just so unique to watch because I feel like we're more passionate than the men,” she explained. “I’m going to blaze my own trail, which has been remarkable and exciting.”
She said before her father passed away last summer, he had come around on her wrestling, and “ended up becoming my biggest fan.”
On Sunday, Neidhart will go head-to-head with current women’s champion Becky Lynch, the first woman to beat Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania. Neidhart says she’s excited to wrestle her superstar opponent, known for her confidence in the ring.
“She believes so much in her heart that she is the best,” she said. “But I also believe that I'm the best.”
Neidhart trained in Calgary at a gym known as the “Hart Dungeon,” where countless professionals—predominantly men—have honed their body slams and submission holds. But she says the gender imbalance made her a more determined, resilient wrestler.
“There was one other girl and myself and then 20 guys, 30 guys,” she said. “So if she wasn't at the practice I had to wrestle men.”
Sunday’s match will serve as a milestone moment for Neidhart, not only for the opportunity to steal the women’s championship title from Lynch, but to compete in the country she calls home.
“I'm at a point right now where I've never felt so inspired to compete and perform, especially in my home country of Canada,” she said.
She wants spectators to focus on her passion when she challenges Lynch.
“You will feel something, you'll feel an emotional connection, but you also understand that I thought very, very hard to get here,” she said.
“And when I win the Raw Women’s championship, you'll know why—because I have grit, determination and passion.”