For Natalya, performing in Madison Square Garden was always about more than just fulfilling a career goal. It was about fulfilling a family legacy.
"I always get emotional there," said Natalya — daughter of two-time WWE tag-team champion Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, and niece of his Hart Foundation partner, Bret "Hitman" Hart. "So I'd hear all the time as a kid growing up about the place — you know, 'Tonight, we're going to Madison Square Garden' . . . So when I finally got to perform at the Garden as a Diva, it brought me back to my childhood and some of the great matches my dad and uncle had."
Most popular sports stories
Those sentiments will, no doubt, be on the former Divas champion's mind when WWE returns to The Garden tomorrow night for its live SummerSlam Tour. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show, which will feature such Superstars as John Cena, Triple H and Sheamus, are available through Ticketmaster or the Garden box office.
When Natalya steps into the ring Saturday night, across from her will be Charlotte, another daughter of an MSG wrestling legend. The reigning WWE NXT women champion's dad is none other than "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Charlotte also has the distinction of giving Natalya what she calls "the most important match of my career."
"I'm actually getting goose bumps talking about it," Natalya said of the May 29 bout from NXT "Takeover," which was heralded as instant classic by fans and a contender for best match of 2014. Natalya was seconded by her famous uncle in a losing effort against Charlotte, who had her legendary father in her corner. "It was about honoring and representing two legacies. And it was the first time my uncle Bret and Ric Flair kind of reunited in decades. They haven't always had a great relationship . . . It connected Bret and Ric in a way they never connected before . . . It was one of the moments I'll never forget."
That match also helped solidify Natalya as one of the premier female wrestlers in the industry — capable of elevating a rookie to a star. Although the third-generation member of the famous Hart wrestling family said she's been "surrounded by wrestling excellence" her entire life, she believes it wasn't until her recent stint on NXT, under the mentorship of perennial WWE headliner Triple H, that she began to really gain confidence.
"Getting a chance to listen to him and hear his ideas and his philosophies, it's such a great asset . . . You can make all the suggestions in the world but you cannot teach experience," said Natalya, who joined WWE in 2007. "I've actually learned how to be a ring general by working with people who have less experience that me, because I'm feeding off their hunger."
Another recent professional endeavor has helped Natalya break out of her shell. Since last year, Natalya has been a featured on the E! Network reality show "Total Divas," which digs into the private lives of WWE's female performers — including Natalya's marriage to fellow WWE wrestler Tyson Kidd.
Now filming its third seasons, Natalya said "Total Divas" has helped raise not only her profile, but her employer's too.
"That's the beauty of it. We're hoping that people — and a lot of woman especially — who wouldn't watch WWE are now hooked and watching Raw and Smackdown regularly," Natalya said. "I think Total Divas has really helped change the Divas division in WWE. We don't just need a championship to fight for. We fight for passion. We fight for what we believe in."