Remember the days when women in pro wrestling were little more than arm candy? Yeah. They're gone.
Today, women are holding their own inside the ring and earning the respect of even the most archaic-thinking fans.
WWE is capitalizing on the success and popularity of the Divas division by showcasing their talents not only on Monday Night RAW, but on the reality show Total Divas that follows the women during the course of their everyday lives.
Among the most popular divas on the show is Natalya, who is a third-generation Superstar from what is arguably the most successful family to ever step inside the squared circle.
She is a product of the Hart family and a chip off her hall of fame uncle Bret's shoulder. Her other uncles were WWE Superstars as part of the famed Hart Foundation. And as if that isn't enough wrestling DNA to course through her veins, her father is Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart.
Since making her WWE debut in 2007, Natalya has not only filled their large shoes, she's surpassed all expectations, routinely outperformed her male counterparts and proved she's capable of standing on its own merits.
Her recent match against Charlotte Flair — daughter of "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair — received critical acclaim and has been mentioned as a potential Match of the Year candidate. The match, which was broadcast live as part of NXT Takover, broke the record for longest televised Divas bout in the 62-year history of the company.
With her in-ring ability and the success of Total Divas, Natalya has played a pivotal role in catapulting women's wrestling in WWE to a new level.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with her as she prepared to tape a series of WWE NXT shows that will air in the near future.
We talked about the evolution of women's wrestling, the balancing act of going back and forth between the main WWE roster and its developmental program, the upcoming season of Total Divas, drunk-dialing Stephanie McMahon (her boss), and Sting finally coming to WWE.
State of Women's Wrestling
I think WWE Divas have evolved so much and that we're really growing in a lot of ways that I don't think anybody really expected. Part of our success really has had to do with the last year, especially with the launch of Total Divas. It has kind of taken everybody by storm and nobody expected Total Divas to be such a huge success. I feel like that's been huge for us. That's been major.
The Divas can do so much more than perform in the ring. We're ambassadors for WWE, we're role models… there's so much we can do.
Her Match Against Charlotte Flair
[To] go in the ring with Charlotte Flair, the daughter of Ric Flair, who is a two-time Hall of Famer, and be able to really show that women can have a 25-minute segment on TV and not only do great with it, but smoke it.
I will toot my own horn, because I don't do that very often, but people are saying (that match) isn't just one of the best Divas matches this year, but it's up for match of the year in a lot of different categories. It was a great feeling to have a match so acclaimed.
For me it was about so much more than a championship. It was proving that we can have it all. We can have our cake and eat it too.
Juggling Working on Main Roster and WWE NXT
The playing fields are equal. It makes me so happy to say that some of the best work I've done in the WWE has been in NXT. In the last year I've felt my character, my wrestling ability, my whole persona has changed from the work and growth I've experienced at NXT… NXT is actually one of the most-watched shows... along with Total Divas.
Sometimes when people say "oh, you went down to NXT," I don't think it's down, it's up.
Sting Wrestling In WWE
I think it's cool. When we saw the debut of the new video game, that Sting is part of (the video game WWE 2K15), it was awesome. It was like, 'oh my gosh.' Nobody ever thought you'd see Sting in WWE and now you see him.
I can say this from experience, especially growing up around WWE my entire life, I'm one of those people that think Sting could possibly have another match in WWE. If I had my first pick of who he'd wrestle, I would for sure say I'd love to see him wrestle Undertaker. But, obviously, that would be for the future to tell. It's great having him back.
Drunk Dialing Stephanie McMahon
Thank goodness I have an impeccable reputation! It's funny because at the time we're filming this reality show and sometimes things get a little wacky on the show…
Nobody, including Steph, ever expected something like [that] to happen. It's something now that we laugh about. The lesson learned is don't ever go into "Brie Mode" (a.k.a. getting rip-roaring drunk)...
Stephanie, despite the role that she plays on TV, she is one of the women that the Divas really look up to… I'm so glad that Stephanie and I have moved past that and I will continue to try to make her proud.
Total Divas Season 3 Spoilers
We have a new cast member, Rosa Mendes. And then we have, obviously, Summer Rae, who was a new cast member from last season. Summer and I never really repaired our relationship from the past. It's something of course I want to work on. We've got some issue there and we go back and revisit that.
There's a lot of story with myself and my husband, TJ. Everybody kind of gets to see that unfold. It's interesting to watch because you can't plan life, life just happens. We're in the middle of filming that right now. I'm just having fun and the show is fun. Each season we pick up more and more momentum.
So, I think everybody's really excited about it. Natalya says she is proud to see two Divas matches are on the card for Sunday's WWE Battleground, including AJ Lee defending the Divas Championship against Paige.
In the Battleground main event, WWE Champion John Cena will defend his title in a Fatal 4-Way match against Kane, Randy Orton, and Roman Reigns.
New episodes of WWE NXT air Thursday night.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @TheChuckCarroll.
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