Not all WWE divas are from the dance floor, runway or stage.
Natalya is from the dungeon, the legendary Stu Hart Dungeon — a rough and tumble place, a basement in the late, great Stu Hart’s mansion in Calgary, Alberto, Canada where aspiring wrestlers went to test their mettle and see if they had what it took to do it.
Natalya had what it took and did it.
Dungeoned by her uncles Bruce and Ross Hart, she is the only female graduate of the Dungeon. The stellar list of graduates also includes Superstar Billy Graham, Greg The Hammer Valentine, Chris Jericho, Jushin Liger, Brian Pillman, Bad News Allen, Lance Storm, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, DH Smith, Jim The Anvil Neidhart, Tyson Kidd and Bret Hart.
Also trained in amateur wrestling and mixed martial arts, Natalya is the first third generation female wrestler and first in the legendary Hart family to win WWE women’s gold when she defeated Lay-Cool (Layla and Michelle McCool) in a handicap match at the prestigious Survivor Series pay-per-view in 2010.
Prior to WWE, Natalya — also known as Nattie Neidhart, the daughter of Jim The Anvil Neidhart of Hart Foundation fame — wrestled in Canada, England and Japan. She inked a developmental deal with WWE in 2007, seven years after her pro wrestling debut. She wrestled for WWE developmental groups Deep South Wrestling in Georgia and then Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa.
In 2008, the solid 5-5, 140-pound wrestler became a WWE diva and eventually morphed into a WWE hybrid diva — someone with experience, intelligence, leadership skills, looks, power and most notably a ring acumen.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked her No.4 of the best 50 female singles wrestlers in the PWI Female 50 in 2011.
Natalya puts her best foot forward, whether it’s dancing with Khali, managing the Hart Dynasty or babysitting the newbies during WrestleMania 29. She is a team player, but her main objective remains a WrestleMania moment inside the ring.
Currently, she is having plenty of moments as one of the main figures in the new reality series Total Divas (10 p.m. EST Sundays on E!). The show follows the lives of WWE divas The Bella Twins (Brie and Nikki), The Funkadactyls (Cameron and Naomi) and Natalya along with rookies Eva Marie and JoJo.
“‘Total Divas’ is going to take Natalya to the moon and back,” she said, “because it’s going to actually give people a chance to see who I really am and what it is I stand for. It’s going to give our WWE fans and people all over the world who are watching our show a chance to see what I’m all about, and it’s going to give them a chance to connect with me as a person.”
Natalya, 31, was approached by WWE about appearing on the show, and she never looked back.
“It was really surreal to be asked to be a part of it,” she said, “and I’m really, really grateful to be on the show, but I never really thought I’d be on a reality show, because I thought you had to kind of be a hot mess or a train wreck to be on one.”
“‘Total Divas’ is totally different. Yes, there is a lot of drama, but it’s actually a really cool take on a reality show. I don’t think there’s anything like it right now on TV.”
Natalya has learned to adapt.
“It’s all about rolling with the punches,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have any skeletons in my closet, and I don’t have anything to hide. So it’s a cool experience to be able to get out there on the show and show people who I really am. Whether you like me or hate me, you’re going to see who I am, and I feel like you’re going to respect me more after seeing it.”
The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“WWE is very much the same way,” she said. “We go out there every single week, 52 weeks a year. We’re on TV. We’re traveling the globe. We’re always on the go.
“Whether you like something on TV one week on Monday Night Raw or you don’t, you’re watching. The company is growing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We’re pretty much taking over the world.”
Women are making an impact in WWE in pro wrestling/sports entertainment, a male-dominated avocation.
“The role of women in WWE has changed and evolved so much,” she said. “That’s empowering to see how much it’s changed because WWE keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. You can look back on the 70s and the 80s and the 90s and where we’re at now, it has evolved and grown to a point where women have power.
“You look at somebody who’s pint-size like AJ Lee, and she was a general manager of Raw. [In her on-camera role] She was controlling people’s careers like John Cena and CM Punk. You look at strong women like Vickie Guerrero. [In her on-camera role] She is running SmackDown right now, and then you have this reality show, ‘Total Divas,’ that people are buzzing about all over the world. Before the show ever aired, people were saying this girl, that girl, I wonder what it’s going to be like, and there were a lot of very harsh critics already giving their take on what they show was going to do and how it was going to effect this, that and everything else.
“And now those same people are saying, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m so hooked on the show.’ That’s what WWE does. It gets you so involved and engaged in what’s going to happen next. What’s going to happen next week. We always love changing people’s perceptions, changing your mind. So you may think this, but after you watch us, you’re going to think that, and you’re going to fall in love with it, just like everybody else who’s watching, even people who have never watched WWE before who are tuning into E! to watch ‘Total Divas.’”
Those people may then decided to watch WWE Monday Night Raw.
“It’s a great partnership with E!,” she said. “WWE doesn’t do anything half baked. Everything we do is top notched. That’s why we are a global phenomenon.”
The early success of ‘Total Divas’ is translating into a greater women’s presence on WWE TV.
“With SummerSlam being right around the corner, anything can happen,” Natalya said. “We’re looking forward to having our ‘Total Divas’ moment there, too.”
Natalya will be involved in the WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view battling Brie Bella on Sunday, Aug. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That makes two matches involving women on the WWE summer pay-per-view spectacular.
• Natalya will team with “Extra” TV host Maria Menounos against Brie Bella and WWE diva rookie Eva Marie during SummerSlam Axxess on Sunday, prior to SummerSlam. Nikki Bella is injured which is why she is not competing, but she will be in her sister’s corner.
Menounos is no stranger to Natalya, The Bella Twins and WWE.
Menounos, who inducted friend Bob Backlund into the WWE Hall of Fame in April, made her in-ring debut in 2009 when she teamed with Kelly Kelly and Gail Kim to defeat Beth Phoenix, Rosa Mendes and Alicia Fox. In 2011, she teamed with Eve Torres, Kelly and Fox to defeat the The Bella Twins, Natalya and Phoenix. In 2012 during WrestleMania 28 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, she wrestled injured, again teaming with Kelly to defeat Phoenix and Torres.
Her mom, Ellen, is the daughter of the late Stu and Helen Hart. Ellen married Jim The Anvil Neidhart, who transitioned from the NFL to the Stu Hart Dungeon and pro wrestling. The dungeon (Hart house) is where The Anvil and Ellen met.
• So who has better facial hair - Daniel Bryan or Jim The Anvil Neidhart?
Natalya chuckles, “That’s a good question. Right now Daniel Bryan is embracing his inner ZZ Top. I think my dad is more traditional, so I’m going to be a little biased and say Jim Neidhart. I think Daniel Bryan needs to get a little grooming done on his.”
• The Nasty Boys had some battles with The Hart Foundation, when it was called WWF. Now it’s WWE, and Anvil’s daughter is in the ring.
Nasty Boy Brian Knobbs said: “Nattie Neidhart is not just a pretty face. She took some of her dad’s moves because she’s like a bulldozer out there. She don’t look like a bulldozer, but I can see when she hits some of the girls, it’s like watching her dad, and I know because that’s what her dad did to me. Nattie is by far one of the superior female wrestlers going today. She’s like a little Anvil.”
• WWE diva Natalya
Natalya is the Total Diva on E! Network’s Total Divas (10 p.m. EST Sundays)
• WWE’s SummerSlam pay-per-view is 8 p.m. EST Sunday, Aug. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Natalya vs. Brie Bella
Daniel Bryan challenges WWE champ John Cena (with guest referee Triple H).
CM Punk battles Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman.
Also, World champ Alberto Del Rio with Ricardo Rodriguez vs. Christian.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt in a Rings of Fire match
Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow.
Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs. Big E Langston and AJ Lee
U.S. champ Dean Ambrose of The Shield vs. Rob Van Dam.
The Miz will be the awesome host of SummerSlam.
WWE rookie diva JoJo of “Total Divas” (10 p.m. EST Sundays on E!) will sing the National Anthem.
• The WWE SummerSlam pre-show is 7 p.m. EST, streaming live on WWE.com, the WWE App, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, Samsung SMART TVs, Sony PlayStation 3, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Pheed.
There are others events during SummerSlam Weekend.
• WWE Monday Night Raw (8 p.m. EST Mondays on USA Network)
WWE Main Event (8 p.m. EST Wednesdays on ION)
WWE SmackDown (8 p.m. EST Fridays on Syfy)