It’s almost twenty-five years since Calgary, Alberta, Canada’s Natalya Neidhart made her debut in professional wrestling, and as the first breakout female star of the Hart family dynasty, the daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart has come to understand that focussing on the future requires a firm grip on the past. I sat down with “Nattie” in Philadelphia as part of the WrestleMania weekend media madness a few weeks ago, and soon found out why Natalya is not just a force to the reckoned with inside the ring, but is also a source of wisdom and experience behind the curtain.

WWE Legendary tag team champion Jim Hart and Bret Hart

Somewhere around the year 2000, just a few short months after Natayla Neidhart began training for Canada’s Stampede Wrestling, I made a visit there myself. Stampede was an important grappling promotion that dates back to 1948, and was managed by her grandfather, Stu Hart and later her uncles; Bruce and Ross. I stayed for a week in a guest house at the Hart family mansion in Calgary, where the infamous “Dungeon” wrestling school was situated, and witnessed first-hand how legitimately tough an aspiring wrestler would need to be in order to make it.

I picked up lessons in the Dungeon that have stayed with me for the rest of my life, and to be able to reminisce about that wood paneled room with thin mats placed on top of what Bruce told me were truck tires, was a chance I could not miss.

“The Dungeon was real. As real as it gets,” says Natayla. “It hurts, but it’s really where you find out what you’re made of.”

For me, that meant being bodyslammed time after time and trying to perfect by breakfall while sucking it up and working through the pain of landing on those unforgiving mats. Natalya, who was stretched and tested to her limit in the same hallowed space shares that her late grandfather Stu welded his own weights and dumbbells, and even his wrestling ring.

“So many people, Gorilla Monsoon trained in the Dungeon,” says Natalya. “My grandfather actually broke in the Von Erich family. He got Fritz Von Erich intro wrestling.” Other wrestling legends that trained in the Dungeon include the likes of ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. The list goes on and on.

A young Natalya Neidhart was 18 years old when she took her first ‘bump’ (a pro wrestling term for falling or being thrown to the ground) in the Dungeon. “And, it was a lifechanging moment for me,” she explains. “Once I started training in the Dungeon, I never looked back. My uncles; Bruce, Ross, Bret, my grandfather Stu, my dad, my husband TJ, my cousin Harry Smith, they were huge influences on my early years.”

Female WWE wrestler Natalya Neidhart making her way to the ring wearing her wrestling costume

How Natalya Neidhart Represents the Past, Present, and Future of Professional Wrestling

Indeed, before flashy performance centers and full-time strength and conditioning coaches, would-be wrestlers had to seek out the best-of-the-best trainers, and more often than not, they were the toughest human beings that you could ever wish to meet. “That’s why I’m so lucky,” explains the now 41-year-old, who has trained in both the old-school and the modern era. “To be the first female from the Hart family to compete and have that formal training in the Dungeon, it’s been like my foundation.”

Natalya now runs “Dungeon 2.0,” a pro wrestling school in Florida with her husband TJ Wilson, who was himself an exemplary wrestler that successfully transitioned to being a WWE agent following a career ending injury that he sustained in 2015. Natalya certainly knows about foundations: It was of course, the legendary tag-team known as ‘The Hart Foundation,’ comprised of Natalya’s uncle Bret Hart, and her dad, Jim Neidhart, that helped to gain global exposure for her family. And, paying it forward, Natayla is eager to help the next generation of potential WWE stars, no bloodlines necessary.

“You’ve got to build a foundation,” she asserts. “You can’t build a house by putting in the windows first. You have to build your foundation and then you can layer and layer, but when I think about the Dungeon style, I think about Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Dynamite Kid, my dad, that is the Dungeon style.” For those who haven’t seen those icons mix it up in the ring, the style is a hard-hitting combination of snug wrestling holds and believable looking strikes, merged with the kind of technical wrestling that was mostly only seen in the United Kingdon in the mid-to-late eighties. The Hart’s travelled backwards and forwards to the UK, and Japan, and brought a style to Stampede Wrestling that had the then WWE chief, Vince McMahon, eager to utilize their talents.”

She adds: “My dad always instilled in me to have fun,” shares Natalya. “He wanted me to live in the moment and have fun. He said the second that you are not having fun in this, you need to go. I’ve always thought about that, and my dad. He really knew how to have a good time and live in the moment and I’m watching a lot of his old matches back, and he was so underrated. My dad was so underrated. He was so good for a big guy. And I want to see him celebrated more, too.”

The Harts have been a significant factor in WWE for more than 40 years, and Natalya is no longer the rookie that she was when she first signed a contract in 2007. These days Natalya is helping the younger up-starts to build that same solid “foundation” that she has, whether that’s in the Dungeon 2.0, backstage at WWE, or in the NXT development classes. This wrestler knows what she is talking about, having won the WWE Divas, Smackdown, and women’s tag-team belts (with Tamina).

Today’s culture of supposed instant stardom and instant gratification could lead many young talents to feel that they have it all figured out, but this more travelled warrior is always there to lend help or advice to aspiring grapplers at any level. “I think, just become a student of the game,” she says of the importance of understanding the craft of pro wrestling. “You know, watch the product, get in the best shape of your life, live as heathier as a life as you can, protect your brain, and find a great wrestling school. Dr Tom Prichard was one of the best trainers I ever had.”

How Natalya Neidhart Stays in Shape

While Natayla loves to honor her family, the former WWE champion still has her sights set on the future, and certainly looks to be in the best shape of her career. “I’m into intermittent fasting,” she says. “I’ve lost 25 pounds in the last year-and-a-half. I’m religious about vitamins, I take so many vitamins, it just keeps me on my toes. I just got a hyperbaric (oxygen therapy) chamber. I’m big on brain health, just getting tons of oxygen to my body, and I’m obsessed with living a healthy life. But it’s all about balance, because I also love my Oreos,” she laughs. This wrestler may be a future WWE Hall of Famer in her own right, but it looks like there are still plenty of magic moments in the ring to come for the Hart family’s first trailblazing female superstar.

Watch Natayla Neidhart on WWE Monday Night Raw, and Follow her on Instagram Here!