While there are many third-generation wrestlers making names for themselves today, Nattie Neidhart can stake a claim of being the first female third generation star. With a lineage that includes grandfather Stu Hart, uncles Davey Boy Smith, Bret and Owen Hart and her father Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, the 22-year-old seems destined for success. Her first big test is now, as she is spending two months in Japan working with various women’s promotions to improve her craft.
“I am feeling okay. I have realized over the last week how many friends I have, because they all want to see me before I go,” Neidhart told SLAM! Wrestling hours before her departure. “I am happy that I am going but in the same sense there is anxiety and pressure to perform at a level I am unsure of. I have my own standards for myself, but I am not sure what these girls work like. Until I actually get there and wrestle with them, it’s a level of excitement and anxiety about people touting me as being so great. Wrestle-aid is hyping me so much because of my family and talking about me being a great wrestler. I have a lot to offer but I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I hope I can perform to the level people expect of me. Once I get there I will be more comfortable.”
The point of the trip is to improve as a wrestler, training daily with some of Japan’s best. While other wrestlers tour Japan to wrestle, Neidhart’s focus is different.
“I am going over there to train, that is the reason why I am going, similar to what Harry (Smith) did when he went over, he was there just to train and interact before going out on tour,” the daughter of Ellie Hart and Jim Neidhart said. “So I will be assessed on how my training goes. All-Japan Women as well as other promotions have expressed interest in me but I will only get matches if the girls feel like they can work with me from the training. Right now I have four set matches in Wrestle-Aid. I believe they are all in Tokyo. I will get more matches if things progress well.”
The tour is in part due to legendary trainer “Tokyo” Joe. Joe has sent a number of talents to Japan, including TJ Wilson, Dave Swift, Apocalypse, Harry Smith, Chris Benoit, Owen Hart, and many others.
“I have been training with Tokyo Joe, which I am so proud of even knowing him let alone having him watch and critique my work. Joe realized that for me to grow and improve as a wrestler I needed to wrestle other girls. My tour of England was a step in that direction, but now I need to face girls who can challenge me and take me up to their level. I can’t get that in Calgary. He thinks I can grow by picking up a different style and wrestling with different girls. Most of my family (that wrestled) has gone to Japan and honed their craft and were ultimately better wrestlers because of it. Joe wants to see me stimulated, and in Calgary I have reached a plateau and done as much as I can do.”
It isn’t the first trip for Neidhart, who last summer spent several weeks in England for All-Star Wrestling.
“It’s not that I feel England isn’t as good as Japan, but the style and work ethic is very different than in Japan. People don’t talk about the English girls with the reverence they do about Japanese girls. Ever since I started wrestling all I have heard about are the girls over there and how they are crazier than the guys and wrestle like The Dynamite Kid. There is a lot more career pressure on a trip to Japan -– it is make or break, if I make it through this tour my chances of making it anywhere in wrestling are good. If I can’t, it will be a real eye-opener as to whether I want to still be involved in and can handle the business. There were four girl wrestlers in England and I ended up wrestling guys more than girls.”
While Neidhart originally didn’t plan on being a wrestler, she started in the business as a ring announcer for the short-lived MatRats promotion. From there, she started taking bumps with TJ Wilson and cousin Harry Smith. She has found both to be a comfort before her trip, since both have been to Japan.
“I take the advice of Harry and TJ very seriously; they are very sensible and they have told me to be myself, stick with what I am good at and stay true to what I believe in. They emphasize their strengths. They advised me to keep my eyes open, and pay attention. We have trained with Joe, and we are strong and come from a good pedigree, we should be proud of what we have come from. Some of the best wrestlers in the world trained, lived or were born in Calgary. Everyone thinks I am tough enough to handle it, but I don’t know anyone who can truly say because they haven’t worked with the girls. They give me an idea and help me be positive.”
Neidhart is the third an final member of this generation of Harts to head to Japan. Cousin Ted Hart is a regular in Wrestle-Aid while Smith recently returned from his first tour of New Japan. She is proud of her family’s accomplishments, but insists that they haven’t relied strictly on their name to garner success.
“For me it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Everything my grandfather had, what Harry or TJ has, they have all had to work so hard to get what they have achieved. You don’t get anywhere in life without working hard for it, and you only get what you put in. I was talking to Bret (Hart) and he was telling me how hard it was for him his first few years, feeling rejected in Japan and WWF; he had to work his ass off to achieve his success. I feel ready to shed some blood, sweat and tears for what I believe in, because wrestling is what I want to do in life. Japan is another step in the journey and an important chapter in my life. A few years ago I just wanted to get to WWE, now I realize there is so much I want to do in my life before I try and go there. I love amateur wrestling for example and wouldn’t mind competing in that. Wrestling is about meeting people and creating bonds with people that share your passion.”
It is Smith that Neidhart takes the most pride in, and despite him being younger, he is very much a role model.
“Look at Harry, and what a neat individual he is because of the way he believes in himself and where he wants to go in his career. I use him as an example because he is one of the few people who has the opportunity to go to WWE now, and he has turned them down to become more cultured and a better wrestler. That is very respectable.”
While Neidhart has had the spotlight on her before, including a bout with TNA star Tracy Brooks at Ballpark Brawl last August in Buffalo, this is her biggest challenge.
“This is the biggest test so far. You can do all the training in the world; a huge test for me was training with Tokyo Joe. The adrenaline of wrestling in front of him is like having 5,000 people watching you. What it comes down to is regardless of where you wrestle; wrestling fans and wrestlers can be very critical. If you fail, or screw up, especially for me coming from my family, expectations are much higher and people are watching. Japan is a Mecca for wrestling, especially for females. It will be the most pressure for me because of the level that these girls are at and the language barrier. I have never worked with people who don’t speak English so that barrier is nerve-wracking.”
Part of the reason many wrestlers only take short tours of Japan is that homesickness can set in easily. In a different culture, where nobody talks like you, the food is different and everything is strange it can be overwhelming. Neidhart is very close to her family and friends, but is prepared for the emotional toll that the two months is likely to take on her.
“England gave me a test of that. I was away for almost two months between there and Buffalo. It is tough, especially with the culture shock. It can be very lonely at times, but ultimately I am looking at the big picture. This is what I want to do so this is the sacrifice I need to make. It is comfortable to live inside a bubble with your job and routine, and that can be a trap. In order to step out of that bubble you have to have the courage to make the sacrifices and chase your dreams. If I fall flat then I will, but if I don’t try then I will never know whether I would have succeeded. It will be a two long months but for the bigger picture, this is what I need. TJ said ‘If you don’t want to be a wrestler, this is the time to step down. Things are happening for you and if you think you can’t do it, then you can’t. You have to believe you can handle this,'” she said, adding “I have survived many things in my life, this is just another test.”