The two-time women’s champion is ready to face Lynch at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on Sunday and told Global News: “You’re going to see a new RAW women’s champion.”
Global News sat down with Natalya at Soho House in Toronto ahead of SummerSlam to ask about her upcoming match against Becky Lynch, Total Divas and her late father Jim (The Anvil) Neidhart.
Global News: What are you most excited about every year when SummerSlam comes around?
Natalya: For me, SummerSlam is really like a Hart family event because some of the greatest SummerSlam moments in WWE history involve my family — like SummerSlam 1992 with Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldogs. That, to me, is one of the greatest SummerSlam matches of all time and it was a sold-out Wembley Stadium with 83,000 people. It was an epic, iconic moment and it’s crazy how decades later we’re still talking about that match. And I look at one of my favourite personal matches that I’ve had from my Natty archives, my match against Naomi in 2017 when I won the women’s championship for the first time. It’s just very special and she’s one of my favourite opponents. Being able to compete in the SummerSlam and have that moment for myself to win the women’s championship, that was at SummerSlam. I just think about a lot of great SummerSlam inspirations and a lot about my family.
You grew up in the wrestling world as a member of the Hart wrestling family, all the way back to your grandfather Stu Hart, who is in the hall of fame. Would you say that you were destined to do become a wrestler? Was it always your passion?
Looking back on my life I feel like the only thing that every really got me feeling excited and inspired and motivated was wrestling. I started thinking about what I wanted to do in my teens and I was always athletic but very dramatic. I feel like, athletics, dramatics and wrestling was a great fit. I started training in the dungeon when I was in my late teens and I was hooked from the first moment I started training. It’s this amazing feeling I can’t even put into words. The way you feel when you wrestle, if you could bottle that up and make it into a magic potion it would just be the best feeling. Money can’t buy it.
It’s awesome. It’s something I obviously didn’t choose but because I am a third-generation superstar in WWE, I’m so proud of it. I think about my lineage and everybody’s journey is different. Even going into SummerSlam Becky [Lynch]’s journey is very different. She fought hard to get here, she had some road blocks —which we all do. But everybody’s journey is different and I respect everyone’s journey. But for me, my dream was always to get to WWE. Once I set my mind to wanting to be a WWE superstar and wanting to be a female wrestler, I just knew that I could make it happen. I never doubted that for one second that I wasn’t gonna make it here.
Did you feel a lot of pressure from your family?
I feel pressure all the time. I think I put the most pressure on myself especially with my family — and especially when your uncle is Brett The Hitman Hart, the British Bulldogs and my dad, Jim The Anvil Neidhart, and my grandfather. We’ve got three Hall of Famers in our family and some soon-to-be Hall of Famers I think, a couple of them (laughing). But for me I always felt so much pressure to be good. And when your uncle was Bret Hart and he’s just this iconic wrestling legend and he’s had some of the greatest matches in the history of WWE, I hoped that people wouldn’t think I’d be as good as Brett. Especially when I was getting started in WWE because it took Brett years and years and years to get to that level. But what was great for me is that I’m a woman. I blazed my own trail and I didn’t have to be like my uncles. I’m totally different and we’re never gonna be the same. Every person has their own blueprint.
Your dad (Jim Neidhart) is a legend, not only in WWE but to all Total Diva fans as well. Watching your family bond on the show is always so much fun. You and your dad had such an important relationship and I’m so glad a lot of the world was able to see the strong bond on Total Divas. Did he enjoy taking part in that show? Because he always seemed to be having so much fun!
My dad and I loved filming together. He was just such a ham. He loved being in front of a camera. We were very similar but we shared the same bond in wrestling. Wrestling is our bond. It was unfortunate for my sisters because they didn’t wrestle so they didn’t understand, but they had different connections with my dad. But for me, we just had this special connection in wrestling. He loved filming Total Divas. I never told him what was happening. I never looped him in or smartened him up to anything, I just let it roll. And he was just so spontaneous and awesome.
Six days after his passing, you honoured him by wearing one of his old jackets during your match at SummerSlam last year. How did you get such strength to be at the event?
I just wanted to share my dad with the world again. It was hard because my dad’s service was a day before SummerSlam. To be able to go “OK. I’m gonna get ready to get on a plane and go to work and do this,” it was a big thing for me. But I knew that I was doing it for my dad because if people saw me wearing my dad’s jacket they would think of my dad. And I felt like what would my dad want? Would he want me to be home and crying on the couch or would he want me to be with my friends, my WWE family and my WWE Universe family? We wanted to be celebrating him and life keeps going. We just have to keep moving forward. It was hard but it was awesome and I’m grateful that everybody was so loving and understanding.
WATCH BELOW: Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart dead at 63
What advice would you give to someone who is going through a rough time but wants to continue moving forward?
One step at a time. I think that was the biggest thing for me was one moment at a time. But then I’d say, “No, one step at a time.” You never know what somebody is going through until you’ve been in those shoes. And I think the world could all use a bit more compassion and kindness.
You are Canadian and you’re back in Canada for SummerSlam this year. How does it feel to be back?
It’s so great. I feel like I’m coming home no matter where I am in Canada. I’m obsessed with Tim Hortons. I want to do everything Canadian. I brought an extra suitcase for ketchup chips, my favorite chip. They’re only in Canada. My husband TJ (Tyson Kidd) and I, we hoard ketchup chips and he likes to hide them. And go sit on the couch and I’ll sit on a bag of ketchup chips that’s underneath the cushion.
How does it feel to be the two-time Women’s Champion in the WWE? Are we going to make it three this weekend?
Yes, this weekend on Sunday I’m gonna be a three-time Women’s Champion (laughing). It feels great because I want my legacy to be about so many different things but at the front of it I want it to say ‘Natalya Woman’s Champion.’ And to be able to say I was a woman’s champion in WWE, it’s special. To have been a part of so many groundbreaking epic moments for women in WWE, like the first-ever women’s ladder match, the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble, it’s very special. The girls are doing so much great stuff and it’s nice to be a part of that. I feel like I’m a driving force in the women’s evolution and that is what my proudest accomplishment is in WWE.
Do you feel like Total Divas helped elevate all the females in the WWE?
I think it really brought a great spotlight to women’s wrestling because a lot of people that watch Total Divas never watched WWE before. And I’ve met so many people that have said ‘Because of Total Divas I brought my family to a live event.’ Moms make a lot of decisions for the household and a lot of moms that were watching our show were also becoming huge wrestling fans. The moms were coming to events dressed up like Nikki and Brie Bella because of the show. That’s where I feel like we brought a really big spotlight from Total Divas to WWE.
You and The Bella Twins started out in WWE on the same week. It’s so amazing to see how far you’ve all come. Do you feel like the three of you have a special bond because of that?
We’re very, very close. I love the twins. I clicked with them in the ring immediately and I clicked with them outside the ring. And they’re such driven, hard-working girls and they’re very passionate. They’re very loyal and they fight for what they believe in and they don’t believe in something they won’t stand behind it. And I think that they’re just such good examples to reach for the stars and keep going. And when one door closes, open up another one and kick the door down.
On Total Divas, a lot of the girls come to you for advice and help with their moves like Lana — who tried to train with TJ and you told her he had a rare form of adult chicken pox…
Trust me, every time Lana wants to train with TJ i’m like “NO! You’re not getting all the secrets, you’re not getting his secrets or mine so back off!” (laughing). Oh, Lana. I love Lana. I’ve had so many little meltdowns with Lana but she’s a funny character, she’s just a funny girl. She’s very polarizing. Either you want to body slam her or hug her. We go through a whole array of emotions. She drives me crazy but I love her so much.
Would you say the drama between you two is real or is it more of the heat of the moment?
I feel like Lana is like a sister. I can talk smack about her but no one else is allowed to talk smack about her. She’s an intense individual but she’s just, she’s also very passionate about what she believes and she gets very fixated on her ideas. She’s relentless about stuff. Like I’m just glad I’m not married to her because when she wants something she has to do it. But she’ll be letting everybody know that she’s gonna do it (laughing). But she’s a good friend of mine and we have some moments but we’ve worked through them (laughing).
What is your go-to hype up music before you head into the ring?
I love Smashing Pumpkins and Queen. Beth Phoenix and I would listen to Queen before we would tag team. I’m telling you, it’s just like we all have a little Freddie Mercury living inside of us that wants to get out.
You have a column in the Calgary Sun and the Edmonton Sun. How did this come about and what made you want to start writing?
My Uncle Bret had a column in The Sun years ago when he was the World Heavyweight Champion. I was approached by The Sun to write a column and I jumped at the chance. Everything I write about is lighthearted. And easy read. It’s easy. Everybody wants easy reads. Yes. No one wants to be too stressed out when they’re trying to enjoy a cappuccino. This week I wrote a column and it’ll be out on Friday. I wrote a column on my SummerSlam inspirations and matches that inspire me. I woke up yesterday at 6 a.m. and started writing my column and it’s 600 words. My column is great because it helps stimulate my brain.
What can fans expect from Summer Slam on Sunday?
You’re going to see a new RAW women’s champion on Sunday when I make Becky Lynch tap out to a sharpshooter. And it’s just going to be so great because Becky Lynch is arguable one of the greatest female superstars in the history of WWE. She’s had the most incredible run of almost anyone I’ve ever seen in WWE, man or woman. It’s going to be unbelievable to be able to beat her in my home country and to take home gold in Canada.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)