Newcomers and Long-Runners
By Joe Martone
Once you’re in the ring, anything is possible. You can be at the top of your game and be dethroned in the next instant. You can be nobody and walk out somebody else. Above all else, the world will be watching as you make or break your career. Not that the pressure has gotten to these two. In one corner, you have a relative newcomer who has made a meteoric rise through the ranks. He commands a three person tag team under the banner of fighting against “injustice.”
In the other, you have the progeny of a long line of wrestlers, a mentor and a fighter who has been in the business since day one and will be broadcast live before the world in a new way.
Meet the North American wrestling champion Dean Ambrose and WWE’s biggest diva Natalya Neidhart, who are both coming to Ontario.
The pair could not have more disparate origin stories. Ambrose began as a fan named Jonathan Good, working for a variety of independent wrestling promotions under the name Jon Moxley. He was a brief champion for Heartland Wrestling Association in 2004, a fighter for Combat Zone and Dragon Gate USA and became champion again for Insanity Pro Wrestling. It wasn’t until he was picked up by the WWE in 2011 that he was reborn as Dean Ambrose.
“It’s a totally different ballgame,” Ambrose said of his WWE experiences compared to working independently. “You’re working for a multinational, million dollar, big corporate conglomerate. There’s a lot more things about it that make it feel like a job. You’re not just out in the wild west doing whatever you want, you have to stay within the rules of the company and what the WWE’s about and that’s a thing you always have to be aware of.”
A huge adjustment for Ambrose was in realizing that he wasn’t just playing to a small, live crowd anymore.
“Part of it’s working for television cameras instead of working for an audience, like a smaller audience you would find in independent or in developmental (wrestling),” Ambrose said. “I had never worked for cameras until I got here, Monday Night RAW and Pay-per-view, presenting for the audience at home. There are 15 cameras on you, doing close ups on you, switching back and forth. There’s stuff I’m still learning, trying to get better at, working for a television product as opposed to working for an audience.”
Natalya Neidhart, on the other hand, was born into the Hart Wrestling family. She and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are the only third generation wrestlers ever and she is the first woman to undergo “The Dungeon,” a rigorous training camp devised by her family that is known for its notorious difficulty. She began as a Diva in 2000 and has been consistently a part of the show ever since.
“I can’t remember a day in my life that I haven’t been surrounded by this,” Neidhart told us in an interview. “Even when I was a little kid, it’s just kind of ingrained in me I guess. It’s very normal, at the same time I know it’s a crazy wild world we live in, in WWE land. But it’s a part of who I am, it’s in the blood, so to speak.”
Ambrose joined the main WWE just over a year ago, first a part of the associated Florida Championship Wrestling. He debuted as part of a three man tag-team with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns known by the NATO code Sierra Hotel India Echo Lima December aka SHIELD. Their crusade was for justice and the fans couldn’t help but root for them.
But what does justice mean to Dean Ambrose?
“Well justice for us is going out there and getting the job done having fun, making sure we’re where we need to be in this business,” Dean told us in an interview. “Working everybody inside and outside the ring and raising the whole company’s level of performance every time we’re out there. We make everybody better and we make everybody work harder. That’s part of the process, just making sure that we get done what needs to get done.”
The team had a meteoric rise to popularity. In the short time that they’ve been featured, they’ve become champions. Ambrose defeated US Champion Kofi Kingston and took his title last May while Rollins and Reigns became Tag Team champions. But rest assured that victory hasn’t made Ambrose complacent—just the opposite.
“That feels pretty good,” Ambrose said regarding his title. “That’s one of those things you don’t really realize how cool it is until you hold that belt in your hands for the first time and you hear the crowd. Now for me the biggest part of it is elevating the belt. I don’t believe a championship makes a wrestler and a wrestler makes a champion. I have to raise the profile even higher than the championship and make everybody want it because I have it. I want my performance to be at the highest level of anybody in the company. I want to make everybody step up to me. I’ll create my own challenges; I want to make sure the energy is pointing to me and the United States championship. I don’t want it to be a trinket.”
Complacency was never in the cards for Neidhart either. Being an active wrestler for well over a decade, she’s taking on what may be her greatest challenge: following the Kardashians.
“We’re getting ready for Total Divas, a reality show that I’m on,” Neidhart said. It’s July 28 debut aired literally right after Keeping up with the Kardashians on E! “It’s a whole lot of drama is all I can say. I never realized I cried so much! But the fur really flies.”
Neidhart revealed that when the network partnered with the WWE and offered her the show, she was kind of blown away.
“I never thought that I would never be interesting enough for a reality show,” she said. “I thought, ‘Man, am I a train wreck?’ Because you see all sorts of shows like the Jersey Shore. When the WWE approached me, I was like stunned. I’m a really big fan of the Kardashians. I know everybody has their opinion on the Kardashians, but to me they’re really, really successful and they’re all about family. Yeah they’re dysfunctional, but they’re all about family. To be on the same channel as the Kardashians is an honor. It’s crazy.”
Neidhart got the opportunity to work with a lot of other Divas, including the Bella Twins, on the show and got to know them better.
“Despite the drama that goes on in the show, we’re around each other more than we are our own family,” Neidhart said. “It really is a sisterhood with the divas. When you’re on the road with each other 250-plus days a year, you’re gonna cry. You’re gonna have meltdowns. But I feel like at the end of the day we always come together. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, we all kind of need each other.”
Apparently, that level of camaraderie is not uncommon in the WWE. When pressed about his relationships to Rollins and Reigns, Ambrose said, “Those two guys are great to work with. I couldn’t ask for better partners.”
“We travel together, we train together, we eat, sleep, breathe and wrestle, and we brainstorm to come up with ideas on how to be better wrestlers” Ambrose said. “We have kind of an ongoing, ever evolving process. We’re making it up as we go along and once we get a little crack, doors open full steam ahead. We have a rapport; we really try to set a standard. We’re gonna work everybody every single night, every single day. That’s what we do.”
And speaking of their training, where do the moves come from? “Sometimes you train for hours,” Ambrose said, noting that the team’s travels allow them to learn a wide variety of different styles from around the globe. “Sometimes you make stuff up on the fly. I’m always trying to keep my brain moving, coming up with new stuff. ”
The teamwork is paying off. Neidhart said that the SHIELD is the future of the WWE, with Ambrose further reflecting on SHIELD’s future plans.
“The goal, for the SHIELD is to eventually take over the circuit. Once we climb to the top of the mountain than, yeah, ideally we will be wrestling each other one day for a whole lot of money. That could definitely happen sometime in the future.” However, he added, “I think we’ll have a hell of a long trip for justice to be served.”
Neidhart’s plans, on the other hand, aren’t so simple. Even with the new show and her own in-ring career, she also serves as a mentor to young diva Eva Marie.
“She’s new to the WWE, she has a lot of potential, but just because you came from the modeling world does not mean you’ve earned your stripes in the WWE,” Neidhart said. “You have so much more to prove. When she slapped Jerry Lawler (a former world champion) across the face, it was shocking to all of us. Maybe she was trying to get attention but it was the wrong kind of attention. She’s a beautiful girl with a beautiful body and a great personality, but she’s got a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, Neidhart loves the fans and loves it when they reach out on Twitter, stating that they “feel like they’re part of our family.”
“That’s the beauty of the WWE. Our fans want to get close to us. They will let you know if they don’t like you, and they demand respect from you. If we didn’t have any respect from them, we would be playing to an empty arena. Our fans are really important and I never take them for granted.”
It seems that because of the fans reception to Dean and Natalya that both of them have long careers ahead of them, inside the ring and out.
WWE LIVE at Citizens Business Bank Arena, 4000 E. Ontario Center Pkwy., Ontario, (909) 244-5500; www.cbbankarena.com. Sun, Aug. 25. 7pm. Tickets $15-$95.