1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

A selfie to remember from Saudi Arabia for WWE’s Natalya Neidhart

The Tampa wrestler hopes her historic match inspires girls to take new paths in a country with so many restrictions.
The WWE's Natalya Neidhart takes a selfie with a young fan after she performed in the first-ever female professional wrestling match held in Saudi Arabia. [WWE  |  WWE]
The WWE's Natalya Neidhart takes a selfie with a young fan after she performed in the first-ever female professional wrestling match held in Saudi Arabia. [WWE | WWE]
Published Nov. 6, 2019

TAMPA — Natalya Neidhart takes lots of selfies with fans. It’s part of her job as a WWE wrestler.

But Neidhart said she’ll never forget a photo she posed for last week with one little girl, at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“Her dad was clapping and crying and her mom was crying,” said Neidhart, 37, of Tampa. “I thought to myself, ‘This little girl might one day become a WWE superstar because of me.’”

Neidhart had just defeated the wrestler known as Lacey Evans in the scripted world of WWE during Saudi Arabia’s first-ever match between female professional wrestlers. Given the kingdom’s many laws restricting the actions of women, the contest required approval from the monarchy of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

What did it mean to Neidhart, daughter of late WWE Hall of Famer and longtime Pasco County resident Jim Neidhart?

“One of the greatest things to ever happen to me,” she said. "Not just in my wrestling career but life. We made history. The Saudi Arabian people were ready. We were ready. The world was ready.”

Lacey Evans flies through the air before crashing onto Natalya Neidhart during the first ever female professional wrestling match held in Saudi Arabia. [WWE]

Her appearance in what has become an annual visit for WWE drew a different reaction from critics of Saudi Arabia, especially with the murder in October 2018 of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

“Unless the Saudi Arabian authorities implement real human rights reforms, it was just for show,” said Philippe Nassif, the Middle East and North Africa advocacy director of Amnesty International. “Saudi Arabia is not a very good environment for women."

Among the examples, Nassif said: Divorce is still difficult for a female to obtain in Saudi Arabia, property cannot be held in a woman’s name, and the government allows men to use an app that tracks women’s movements. Women who speak out for better treatment, he said, are harassed by the government.

Those who led a successful movement granting women driving privileges have been arrested, he said, and many have been tortured and sexually assaulted in confinement.

“The crown prince chooses high profile events that he understands westerners appreciate and enjoy," Nassif said. The all-female wrestling match was "his way of saying critics who say they abuse women are wrong. But it’s just a PR stunt.”

For her part, wrestler Neidhart believes positive engagement can bring positive change.

“Every single person can do their part,” she said. “I am proof of that.”

RELATED STORY: The Rock gets his name from his wrestler dad, who now lives in Lutz.

RELATED STORY: Jake Hager, college champ and WWE’s Jack Swagger, switches to cage fighting

Neidhart was selected as one of the female performers because she pressed for the opportunity.

“I kept expressing to upper management, ‘I want to go. I want to be the first person to do this. I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of this change. I really felt strong about doing it.”

She had to make a wardrobe concession.

Her pink-and-black wrestling attire typically shows off her muscular arms and toned stomach. But in Saudia Arabia, she performed in a pink T-shirt over a full black spandex body suit.

“It comes down to respect for their culture,” Neidhart said. “When we went to Egypt we had to wrestle in a similar outfit. It’s a little more conservative but the last thing in the world I was thinking about.”

Her primary focus, she said, was on the people seeing for the first-time what a female professional wrestler can do.

Neidhart, who wrestles under her own name, and Macey Estrella-Kadlec, who portrays Lacy Evans, demonstrated the moves that thrill WWE fans in more than 180 counties — acrobatic maneuvers, kicks and punches that look like the real thing, and tossing one another clear out of the ring.

Neidhart was declared the winner when her opponent, stuck in a tight hold, surrendered. The wrestlers embraced as the crowd cheered.

Natalya Neidhart and Lacey Evans, hugging after a wrestling match in Saudi Arabia, have to wear more clothes than usual when they perform in some Middle Eastern countries. [WWE]

Moments later, Neidhart noticed the little girl in the front row trying to capture the moment with her cell phone camera.

“I grabbed it from her hand and said, ‘I’ll take the selfie for us,’” Neidhart said. “She might one day be the first ever Saudi Arabian female superstar in the WWE because she saw this match. She saw the possibility of change right in front of her eyes.”


  1. The area will be closed to drivers headed north and south from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. through Friday.
  2. Ed Turanchik is a lawyer and former Hillsborough County commissioner. [Times (2016)]
    Politico Ed Turanchik is warned for lobbying about the MacDill ferry after his status as a consultant ended.
  3. A new report to the Florida Legislature details the investigation that led to the forced resignations of six Moffitt Cancer Center employees in December, including president and CEO Dr. Alan List. [Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The money came from the “Thousand Talents Program” and went to personal accounts set up in China.
  4. Sydney Holton, left, and her friend Jordan Lewis yell for beads along the Gasparilla parade route on Saturday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    A week and a half after the boulevard’s latest high-profile traffic death, pedestrians got the whole road to themselves.
  5. From left, Don Haddad, Peter Licata and Addison Davis, all finalists for the job of Hillsborough County school superintendent, met Thursday with community members at Rampello K-8 School. The School Board will choose among the three on Tuesday. [MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times]
    Addison Davis, Don Haddad and Peter Licata outline their plans for the first 90 days.
  6. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking for information about a man accused of killing a duck at a Town 'N Country apartment complex in Tampa. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. [Bay News 9]
    He used bread to lure the bird in before killing it. A complaint was filed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
  7. A beer is pictured in the outdoor games area of Park & Rec on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Towers of Channelside condo association has filed a lawsuit against the bar, as residents complain about noise.
  8. Rocky Johnson, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and a resident of Lutz, died Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Johnson thought he had flu. He went to the doctor the day before he died.
  9. Yacht StarShip, a dining and water taxi company, has added the Lost Pearl pirate ship to its fleet just in time for Gasparilla. [Yacht StarShip]
    After years entertaining tourists in Virginia Beach, the Lost Pearl is settling into its new Tampa Bay home.
  10. A scooter rider navigates Platt Street on Friday morning during the calm before the storm — successive weekends of downtown Gasparilla parades. Scooter companies like Jump warn users it’s a violation of their rental agreement to operate one while under the influence. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    One company decided to pull its scooters Jan. 25 ‘out of an abundance of caution for riders and those participating in Gasparilla.’