Pink is more than a color for WWE superstar Natalya.
To her, it represents empowerment and family. The same could be said for those impacted by breast cancer. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and WWE is continuing its partnership with Susan G. Komen for the fifth year in a row. Natalya is proud to actively champion this initiative, which encourages fans to take action in the fight against breast cancer through Komen’s More than Pink movement.
The cause hits close to home for the third-generation performer, as her grandmother passed away from breast cancer at the age of 65.
“I wish there was more research, and that we could have done more for her when she was going through it,” Natalya said. “That was when I was 18. I feel like, all these years later, to be a part of WWE and have them giving back the way they are. We are raising a lot of money and changing people’s lives. By raising awareness and raising money for research and helping support people going through it and their families, this is something I wish we had more of when my grandmother was going through it.
“There is a part of me that thinks, as sad as it sounds, if we had more research then maybe she would have lived. So moments like that makes me want to spread awareness for this even more. The more we know about breast cancer and show that support to people going through it, the better. Just knowing that we have their back really helps their morale.
“It’s very rewarding,” Natalya continues. “I play a bad guy on TV with my new character in wrestling — a heel, as we call it. But I feel everyone comes together for this cause. Good or bad — everyone. We have this incredible power with our WWE Universe, our WWE fan base to really bring people together around the world. So when we say something is important to us, our fans jump on board and they feel it’s important to them, too. That’s the power of WWE.”
Fans may notice, while watching Raw, SmackDown or other WWE series this month, that the superstars are sporting “More Than Pink” t-shirts and pins. Signage is also prevalent in the arenas where even the ring ropes are pink. WWE is donating 20 percent of all retail sales of “More Than Pink” t-shirts sold on shop.wwe.com and at live events to Komen, as well as giving fans an option of donating more when they check out. Considering pink is Nattie’s trademark color, one could say for her breast cancer awareness is a year round effort.
“I never ever wanted to ride on my family’s coattails, but there was also a point in my career where I wasn’t going to be afraid of who my family is,” she said.
“There was sometimes I would get advice from people telling me that I should want to be my own person and not be associated with my uncle Bret or uncle Owen, grandfather Stu or my dad [Jim Neidhart]. I was like, ‘Yeah, I do want to be associated with them. They are family. They are my heart and soul. I will blaze my own trail as a woman, but will always have a piece of them with me.’ And that comes from wearing pink.
“I think about my grandmother when I go to the ring and what she went through. My uncle Bret went through prostate cancer; granted it wasn’t breast cancer, but it was still cancer. That was a very scary time for him because he has fought some huge battles in the ring, but nothing like what he had to deal with cancer. He managed me in a match in Chicago at Payback. It was two months after he had surgery for prostate cancer. I remember asking him, ‘Hey, they really want you to come be a part of this match.’
“Bret was still very weak at the time. He was still very sick. He was just getting his strength back. That meant so much to me that he powered through that. So then I think about when I got my teeth knocked out the other day and say, ‘Who cares? Think about all the other things people are going through.’ Susan G. Komen inspires me to be stronger in every way — strong the way my uncle was for me, strong the way my grandmother was when she was fighting for her life. I like giving back in this way and honor these men and women around the world fighting the disease.”
Natalya is no doubt one of WWE’s toughest. She recently posted of photo on Instagram showing that, indeed, her two front teeth were lost in a match.
“I tend to have a lot of problems with those two teeth, because when I was younger I was in an accident on my bicycle and that impacted them,” she said. “So they have always been really loose. It was their day. There is a dentist on every corner in Las Vegas, so basically I finished the match and worked through it. I had great girls I was in the ring with. I’m OK. I’m really tough. I’m not sure when I hurt anymore. I was back the next day. I just couldn’t stop laughing after it happened. I was like, ‘Oh my God! My two front teeth are out.’ Of course I grabbed Renee Young and said, ‘You’re coming with me to the dentist to handle this.’”
The competition of the women’s division is at an all-time high. The show Natalya is on, SmackDown Live, recently ushered in its own women’s championship. The well-traveled veteran now finds herself in a locker room with some new faces. Natalya has switched gears with the recent brand extension, going from fan favorite to onscreen villain.
“It’s challenging,” Natalya said. “What feels comfortable to me is being good. What feels normal to Nattie is the way I’ve been portrayed. I was vulnerable on TV, sympathetic where I have had moments where I have felt overlooked and sometimes where I naturally slipped in the babyface role because that is who I am. I kind of realize that with the struggling to prove myself and prove what I can do, I feel it made the fans sympathetic, and they could relate to me.
“Now I’m on this other side of the coin as a bad girl. It’s challenging because I’m still trying to convince the audience I’m bad and not to like me. When I come out, I want them to boo me. There are times when I come out they don’t boo me. I don’t want them to cheer me because then I feel like I’m not doing my job.
“I’m just excited if it leads to a storyline that drives my character to being more of a bad guy. I think that is the opportunity I’m waiting for in the heel role. We saw it initially when I attacked Becky Lynch and turned on her. At this moment now we are waiting for the right opportunity because when that happened with Becky, we were all on the same show and there was one women’s division.
“Then the draft came, and we introduced all these new girls. SmackDown is interesting because now you have all these new girls that are on this even playing field. I’m playing this new role, Nikki Bella is coming back from injury, Becky is still pretty new, Alexa Bliss and Carmella are still new, Eva Marie is just starting to get her feet wet with her role. We are all kind of starting out, even though I’ve been in the company for a while. It has been six years since I’ve been a heel, and I didn’t last really long as a heel because the audience didn’t buy it. So I’m really excited about the challenge. Hopefully I get a storyline I can bite into that is totally awesome and the fans can totally embrace it.”
Outside the ring viewers can look forward to Natalya returning for Season 6 of Total Divas, which is set to premiere Nov. 16 at 8/7CT on E! The WWE reality show will feature Naomi (Trinity) back in the fold with new additions Renee Young, Maryse and Lana.
“I think it’s great to have new cast members, but you need to have familiar faces for the audience,” Natalya said.
“It’s like watching the Kardashians and not having Kim, Khloe or Kourtney. It’s important to have the new integration, but it’s nice we still have the originals like myself, the Bellas, Eva and having Naomi again is amazing because people feel connected to us. They feel we are their friends. Then you integrate someone like Lana. I think she is really going to pop on this season of ‘Total Divas.’
“She shows a wide range of emotions and personality traits. She damaged one of my vehicles. I’m not going to say what she did, but it was pretty bad, and my dad was with her when it happened. I wanted to body slam her and put her in the sharpshooter on my front lawn. I didn’t but came very close. Then she sent me about 15 text messages after where I just wanted to get a new phone at that point or throw it in a lake.
“She really cracks me up. When I think about the moments we had on the show she is a walking reality show herself. Poor Rusev. It takes a lot of man to put up with Lana. I actually told the twins this. I actually like Lana. She is very real and honest. She is very honest with her feelings. That is what you need on a reality show.
“Maryse is like a French poodle. She is very high maintenance. Renee is down to earth. Maryse actually cracks me up a lot because I don’t’ think she knows how she comes off. She reminds me of my Persian cats. She is very spoiled, but she also has a pretty good sense of humor. We both have that Canadian connection. We are pretty good.
“Renee and I are close friends. It’s cool to see Renee on the show because you see Dean Ambrose with her. That’s kind of a first because they have never come out as a couple. So it’s cool to see that side of Dean. It’s great to have her.”
Natalya provides a further sneak peek of what viewers can expect in the weeks to come.
“You see a lot of stuff with the twins,” she said. “A lot of life changes with them with Brie being retired and Nicole coming back from injury and [Daniel] Bryan had to retire. It’s really a great season. There is family stuff I share on this show. I get reminded why you don’t mix business with family ever. You never throw Fandango or Titus O’Neil in the mix. That will blow up in your face. All I can say is my sister loves Big E. I told my sister she should be thinking about this cooking class and not flirt with Big E. It’s not always about Booty O’s.”
- Watch WWE No Mercy Sunday, October 9 at 8/7CT on WWE Network and pay-per-view.
- Watch WWE SmackDown Live Tuesdays on 8/7CT on USA Network.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.