Wrestler of the Week: Natalya

Albert Ching

RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present. 

As a third-generation wrestler, Natalya will always be associated with her famous family. But for the past decade, she’s blazed a very distinct trail for herself. She’s one of the longest-tenured women’s wrestlers in WWE history, a multiple-time former champion, an E! reality star, and, most recently, Ronda Rousey’s most trusted ally.

Born Natalie “Nattie” Neidhart, Natalya is the daughter of ’80s and ’90s pro wrestling star Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, who passed away this past August. Of course, as part of the Hart family, she has quite a few close links to wrestling royalty, including her uncle, WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart.

But while her choice of career may have seemed inevitable, success was far from guaranteed. After years on the independent wrestling scene, Natalya joined the WWE system in 2007, starting in its then-developmental league Deep South Wrestling (DSW). She made her main roster debut in April 2008 by aligning with the villainous Victoria and soon found herself in the mix with the top names of the Divas Era like Beth Phoenix, Layla, and Kelly Kelly, while losing to Michelle McCool in a match to establish the first-ever WWE Divas Champion. Even back in 2008, Natalya’s emphasis on technical prowess represented something of a shift in how women performers were perceived in WWE.

Natalya truly embraced her roots a year later with the formation of “The Hart Dynasty,” a trio alongside her boyfriend (now husband) Tyson Kidd and her cousin David Hart Smith (the son of the late British Bulldog, now known as Davey Boy Smith Jr., one-half of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Killer Elite Squad tag team). The team only lasted a year and a half, but they made an impact, including assisting Bret Hart in his WrestleMania XXVI match against Vince McMahon and winning a 2010 feud against the then-new-to-WWE group of The Usos and Tamina.

After The Hart Dynasty dissolved, Natalya was able to focus again on her singles ambitions and capitalized on that by winning the Divas Championship at Survivor Series 2010 against LayCool in a handicap match. That reign only lasted two months (Eve Torres won the title at Royal Rumble 2011) but represented Natalya’s first taste of gold in WWE.

By 2011, Natalya had settled into the role of a genial veteran providing guidance to newer women on the roster—a position she’s held several times in her time in WWE. And ultimately, it never seems to last: By fall of 2011, Natalya teamed with “The Glamazon” Beth Phoenix to form “The Divas of Doom,” a duo of aggressive Divas who targeted the likes of AJ Lee and Kaitlyn (who Natalya had mentored before she turned on them) and specifically fought back against what they dubbed “cute, perky little princesses” of the division. While the team was memorable, it lasted less than a year—but the connection between Natalya and Beth Phoenix has sustained, with Natalya inducting Phoenix into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017.

The biggest boost yet to Natalya’s profile came in July 2013 with the series premiere of Total Divas on the E! network. Through the show’s eight seasons (and counting!), Natalya and The Bella Twins have remained the only constants on the show, giving all three of them considerable exposure to non-wrestling fans. Not only has Total Divas given fans insight into Natalya’s family and something resembling her real life (who can forget her throwing Lana’s phone into the ocean?), it’s also helped keep her a constant presence on WWE’s in-ring programming, including in feuds against her co-stars Nikki and Brie Bella.

Living up to her family’s hard-nosed lineage, becoming a reality TV star didn’t take Natalya’s focus away from wrestling. At the first-ever NXT TakeOver in May 2014, Natalya (with Bret Hart in her corner) took on Charlotte (with Ric Flair in hers) in a tournament final for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship. Though Natalya didn’t win, the match itself—an excellent back-and-forth affair—was one of the pivotal moments in WWE’s Women’s Revolution, and helped set the standard of spectacular Women’s Championship matches at NXT TakeOver events.

As the Women’s Revolution took hold on the main roster, Natalya soon found herself in the midst of it, including another match against Charlotte at March 2016’s Roadblock event. Later that year, she started an especially heated feud with Nikki Bella, which saw a lot of very mean words exchanged, as well as a Falls Count Anywhere match (won by Natalya).

Nearly seven years after winning her first WWE championship, Natalya became a two-time champ in August 2017, making Naomi tap out with her Sharpshooter (basically a family heirloom). She’s also been a key part in many “firsts” for women in WWE, including the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank match, the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match, and the first all-women’s WWE pay-per-view event, October’s WWE Evolution.

This year, Natalya’s most notable role has been as Ronda Rousey’s partner in the RAW Women’s Champion’s first year in WWE. Natalya and Rousey even partnered together in Rousey’s first televised RAW tag team match this past September, against Alexa Bliss and Mickie James.

Recently, Natalya has been embroiled in a rather personal feud with The Riott Squad, whose nefarious actions have included breaking the signature sunglasses of Natalya’s late father. Things look to come to a head on December 16 a WWE TLC, with Natalya facing Ruby Riott in a tables match.

WWE TLC 2018 takes place December 16 on WWE Network.

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