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You know you’ve made it when your cat has 160,000 Instagram followers. This is the life of Natalie Katherine Neidhart-Wilson (aka Natalya, aka Nattie), whose show-stopping strength and style in the WWE ring has won her fans the world over. “2Pawz is handsome, he’s rich, he’s fun,” she says of her beloved feline. “What more do you want?” (It’s @2Pawz, if you’re so inclined.)
That playfulness bespeaks a woman brimming with optimism—and why not? The Total Divas star’s popularity (3.5 million Insta-fans of her own) and performance (tag-team dominance alongside Divas of Doom partner Beth Phoenix) seem to be peaking just when the women’s division is finally, in wrestling parlance, getting over.
But make no mistake: Her path to the spotlight hasn’t exactly been cushy—she’s earned it.
To understand how far Nattie has come, we’ve got to revisit her roots. And to say wrestling is in her blood is an understatement.
Back in the ’40s, her grandfather, Stu Hart, founded Calgary, Canada-based Stampede Wrestling, where a bevy of future wrestling icons blossomed. Stu’s sons include Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Owen Hart, plus sons-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Nattie’s dad, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart—Bret’s partner in the Hall-of-Fame wrestling duo The Hart Foundation. Survive the historic Hart house’s legendarily infamous basement training complex—affectionately called “The Dungeon”—and spandex-swathed glory just might await.
Like so many of the men in her family, the wrestling bug bit Nattie early on. “I’ve been surrounded by wrestling my whole life, but I was the first female that wanted to do it,” she says. “I was always very athletic, always very dramatic, very much like my dad. And once I started training in ‘The Dungeon,’ I was hooked. It was so much fun!”
Initially skeptical, Jim evolved into her biggest fan, and grappling mostly with men gave Nattie an unexpected edge. “It made me stronger, because I was so much smaller,” she recalls. “I learned this really physical, gritty style—and that you get what you give. I still think of that time. I still remember that hunger.”
So, in 2000, inspired by fellow Canadian Trish Stratus and packing her Uncle Bret’s “Sharpshooter” finishing move, Nattie leap-frogged straight into overnight fame, right? Well, not exactly. It was more like several years grinding the indie circuit before finally signing with WWE in 2007—and facing new challenges.
“When I debuted, WWE was doing the Diva Searches and hiring models, and I’m like your traditional lady wrestler,” she says. “I’m not skinny and I can’t dance. I remember Beth [Phoenix] saying: ‘Nattie, you’ve just gotta fake it ’til you make it. One day they’re gonna be ready for us.’ ”
In the meantime, she endured 45-second matches on TV, silly storylines (an infamous one involved her suffering from a flatulence problem), and sitting out a few WrestleManias at a time when women would be lucky to have one featured match on the card. There were personal blows, too. Her husband, T.J. Wilson, a.k.a. Tyson Kidd, suffered a career-ending injury in 2015 (he’s now a WWE producer). Then Jim died suddenly last August, at just 63.
In the end, though, Beth was right—Nattie’s time at the top came. In August 2017, she became the first woman to hold both the Divas Championship and the SmackDown Women’s Championship, and this past April, Phoenix came out of retirement, reforming the Divas of Doom with Nattie for the first-ever Women’s Tag Team Championship match at a WrestleMania in front of more than 82,000 fans at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
Though the duo came up short in their match, the night was a big victory for a division that was once an afterthought, since this WrestleMania also marked the first time the main event was a women’s bout, featuring three groundbreaking wrestlers—Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch—who certainly weren’t plucked from the roster of a Diva Search. The night was by far the biggest triumph of the company’s “Women’s Revolution,” which has changed the landscape for female talent in WWE since the movement began back in 2015. And for ladies like Nattie, who’ve grappled through those earlier eras, nights like this are extra special.
“It’s just surreal, because I feel like my dad has played a big part in all these wonderful things happening, but I also feel like WWE understands how much I’ve contributed,” Nattie reflects. “That’s why this all feels so good now, being able to wrestle and perform with all these strong female competitors. And it goes back to, ‘Why do I love this?’ Because it makes me excited to get up in the morning and live my dream.” Spoken like a beyond-worthy wrestling dynasty heiress. 2Pawz must be so proud.