Pushed to Punished: The Disheartening Degradation of Natalya in WWE
In Pushed to Punished, I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfalls for one reason or another.
Arguably, there is no Superstar who has fallen farther in recent years than Natalya.
A multi-generational Diva, Natayla was destined for greatness from the moment she arrived in WWE in 2008. However, it took her longer to rise to superstardom than expected, as she did nothing of note as a singles competitor for two years before finally winning the Divas Championship in 2010.
Her title victory signaled a changing of the guard in the Divas division, though it was short-lived. She dropped the title to Eve at the Royal Rumble 2011 and returned to irrelevance for the remainder of the year.
An alliance with Beth Phoenix as The Divas of Doom gave fans hope that officials were figuring out how to utilize her to her full potential, but the group met their demise shortly after their formation. Instead, Natalya was relegated to a lousy flatulence gimmick, wrestling on Superstars and managing The Great Khali.
She has found more success of late as the valet for her husband Tyson Kidd and Cesaro, but their injuries cut their momentum short. Being left out of the Divas Revolution also did nothing to help boost her stock in the company.
Here, we'll break down every peak and valley in the career of Natalya in an attempt to discover where WWE went wrong with her.
Debuting on SmackDown
Traditionally, there is no better time for up-and-comers to arrive in WWE than immediately following WrestleMania. That virtually guarantees they won't be lost in the shuffle, which proved to the case for Natalya Neidhart, who debuted on the April 25, 2008 edition of SmackDown.
In her premiere fight for the blue brand, she knocked off Cherry in singles competition. Although it was a relatively short-lived affair, she was able to showcase her skills as the daughter of WWE legend Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and give the WWE Universe a small taste of what she was capable of doing.
She quickly formed an alliance with Victoria, an equally neglected—and talented—women's wrestler on SmackDown. They dominated their competition throughout the spring, which led to Natalya earning a shot at becoming the inaugural Divas champion at The Great American Bash pay-per-view event.
Natalya fell short of capturing the gold but continued to hone her skills through the remainder of 2008. But by the summer, it became apparent that The Bella Twins were the new ladies on the block and that WWE was determined to push them as aggressively as possible.
Consequently, Natalya suffered setback after setback at the hands of the devious duo for months on end, but thankfully it wasn't long before she moved over to the ECW brand to manage her real-life boyfriend, Tyson Kidd.
Aligning with The Hart Dynasty
After spending nearly three years in WWE's developmental system, Tyson Kidd made his long-awaited main-roster debut alongside Natalya on the February 10, 2009 edition of ECW. He decimated his opponent with ease as the intimidating daughter of Jim Neidhart looked on from ringside.
With Natalya directionless on SmackDown, it made perfect sense to bring her over to ECW and pair her with Kidd. Given their relationship in real life, they had great chemistry together that was only strengthened by the addition of David Hart Smith to their act that May.
Collectively known as The Hart Dynasty, the three conquered the tag team ranks on every brand they were a part of including ECW, SmackDown and later Raw. It took time for them to find their stride, but by April 2010, they were the hottest team in the division.
Kidd and Smith captured the WWE Tag Team Championship at 2010's WWE Draft special and reigned as champions for the next five months. At this point, Natalya was mostly competing in intergender tag team matches and rarely in singles action.
Once tension was teased among the members of the faction, it was high time Natalya broke off on her own. Kidd and Smith went their separate ways in the fall, while Natalya set her sights on the Divas Championship for the first time in over two years.
Chasing the Divas Championship
On the Sept. 27, 2010 edition of Raw, Natalya scored the biggest win of her career up to that point. By winning that night's Battle Royal, she earned the right to face Michelle McCool that Sunday at Hell in a Cell for the Divas Championship.
Natalya had an impressive outing against her longtime rival but ultimately came up short of capturing the gold when Layla got McCool intentionally disqualified. In a title match with Layla at the subsequent pay-per-view, she fell victim to the numbers game and was unsuccessful in her attempt to take the title.
She was granted one last shot at the strap at Survivor Series in a 2-on-1 Handicap match versus LayCool, and despite having the odds stacked against her, the multi-generational Diva emerged victorious on her own by way of submission.
Their feud continued through Tables, Ladders & Chairs, where she and the returning Beth Phoenix battled LayCool in a history-making tag team Tables match in which the future Divas of Doom scored the win. But before her reign could really begin, she dropped the belt to Eve in an unadvertised Fatal 4-Way at the Royal Rumble.
Almost overnight, Natalya was back to being just another woman on the roster, losing her rematch to Eve on the Feb. 14 Raw. She served as the standard-bearer of the Divas division for many months but was unfortunately left off the WrestleMania 27 card in favor of Snooki.
Forming The Divas of Doom
Natalya was just beginning to build momentum when the plug was pulled on her Divas Championship reign, so it remained a mystery why officials suddenly lost faith in her to carry the division.
As part of the 2011 WWE Draft, she was sent packing back to the SmackDown brand, where she contested meaningless matches against the likes of Alicia Fox, Rosa Mendes and AJ Lee. She spent months in Superstars purgatory before finally rekindling her friendship with Beth Phoenix in August 2011.
Mere days after becoming the No. 1 contender to the Divas Championship by going rogue, Phoenix was joined by Natalya in her quest to rid the division of the "Barbie dolls." It took them longer than expected, but Phoenix was eventually successful in winning the gold with help from Natalya.
They remained a cohesive unit for the final few months of 2011, but their alliance inexplicably faded going into the new year. Natalya eventually went back to being a babyface by February 2012, but instead of feuding with Phoenix, The Divas of Doom simply dissolved for no apparent reason and went their separate ways.
On paper, the duo had the potential to bring women's wrestling back to prominence, but WWE Creative dropped the ball on them before they could reach that point. While Phoenix reigned as champion, Natalya got the short end of the stick, making semi-regular appearances on the main shows in a losing effort.
Feuding with AJ Lee, Summer Rae and The Bella Twins
It is also worth noting that Natalya was saddled with a gimmick that saw her pass gas at inappropriate times following the split of the Divas of Doom. Needless to say, the was a complete waste of her tremendous talent, especially when very few people actually found it funny.
As 2012 progressed, she was largely utilized in an enhancement role while managing The Great Khali and Hornswoggle. That was perhaps the darkest period of her career which coincided with the division nearly going extinct due to lack of television exposure.
When Total Divas debuted in July 2013, Natalya became a bigger fixture in the division and went after the Divas Championship on an episode of Main Event in November and at TLC in December. She came up short on both occasions, but both bouts against AJ Lee were two of the best wrestled women's matches all year in WWE.
The subsequent year wasn't much different for the former Divas champion as she engaged in a short-lived feud with Summer Rae in early 2014. It was nice to see Natalya appear more frequently on Raw, but very rarely was she coming out on the winning end.
She took part in the Vickie Guerrero Invitational for the Divas Championship at WrestleMania 30, but failed to win back the belt. Simultaneously, she was making appearances on NXT, which was where she experienced her first real career resurgence.
Reuniting with Tyson Kidd
The on-air relationship between Natalya and Tyson Kidd didn't end on the best of terms, but the two were still very much in love in reality. Their time together on Total Divas brought them together on NXT, where Kidd was a regular upon returning from injury in late 2013.
Meanwhile, Natalya had her sights set on the NXT Women's Championship, and despite falling short of winning the title, she contested a classic with Charlotte at May 2014's NXT TakeOver special. From there, she put her full focus into managing her husband.
The lingering issues between the two established on Total Divas were brought to NXT programming, and as stupid as it may have seemed at first, it was the best thing that could have happened to the duo. As the abusive husband, Kidd quickly became the biggest heel in the promotion.
They were later brought back to WWE TV later that year, though Kidd didn't find much singles success. The couple eventually patched things up, as she managed the duo of Kidd and Cesaro and led them to the WWE Tag Team Championship in early 2015.
Almost immediately, the trio found fantastic chemistry together, but the group was forced to disband when Kidd was sidelined with an injury in June. Cesaro branched out into singles competition, and Natalya was left to fend for herself again.
Disappearing from WWE Programming
Tyson Kidd suffered his injury right around the time WWE started taking women's wrestling more seriously, which would have been the perfect excuse for Natalya to chase Divas Championship again.
Instead, she was left to watch from the sidelines as the likes of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch were called up to the main roster.
Fans were outraged by her lack of involvement in the so-called "Divas Revolution," but it might have been for the better. It allowed her to stay home with Kidd while he rehabbed and refresh her character. Besides, the "revolution" was poorly handled from the start, and she wouldn't have benefited from being a part of it.
She resurfaced on WWE TV in the fall and engaged in a short-lived rivalry with Paige that ultimately went nowhere. The Anti-Diva attacked Natalya backstage on SmackDown one night, but Natalya was gone from programming shortly thereafter, reportedly due to a broken ankle, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t SEScoops).
Since the dawn of 2016, she has made sporadic appearances on Raw and SmackDown, but merely to promote the new season of Total Divas. It's painfully apparent that the higher-ups clearly don't have direction for her at the moment and don't consider her a top priority anymore.
Given that she is among the best female wrestlers under contract to the company, there is a lot more for her to offer before she leaves. There has never been a single reason why she has been so underutilized over the course of her career, but what is for certain is that she deserves at least one more reign as champion after all she has done for WWE.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Natalya has been utilized over the course of her WWE career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
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Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.