AJ Lee

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AJ Lee
AJ Lee WM Axxess 2014.jpg
AJ in April 2014
Birth name April Jeanette Mendez
Born (1987-03-19) March 19, 1987 (age 27)
Union City, New Jersey, U.S.
Resides Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Spouse(s) CM Punk (m. 2014)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) AJ[1]
AJ Lee
April Lee
Miss April
Billed height 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)[2]
Billed weight 115 lb (52 kg)[3]
Billed from Union City, New Jersey[2]
Trained by Jay Lethal
Debut September 29, 2007
Website

April Jeanette "AJ" Brooks[4][5] (née Mendez; born March 19, 1987) is an American professional wrestler signed to WWE under the ring name AJ Lee.

Mendez began her career performing on the New Jersey independent circuit as Miss April, mostly in Women Superstars Uncensored. After joining WWE in 2009, she was assigned to its developmental system, Florida Championship Wrestling, where she spent the following two years before getting called up to the main roster. Meanwhile, she took part in season three of NXT in 2010, placing third in the competition.

In 2012, she rose to prominence through several storylines, such as relationships with wrestlers feuding over WWE's world championships, along with a three month stint as the General Manager of Raw. In subsequent years, she won the WWE Divas Championship three times, her first reign being the longest in the title's history at 295 days. She also received the "Diva of the Year" Slammy Award in 2012 and 2014 and was named "Woman of the Year" for an unprecedented three consecutive years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Early life

Mendez was born in Union City, New Jersey, and is of Puerto Rican descent.[6][7] She has two older siblings; a sister, Erica, and brother, Robert.[8][9] She describes her family's experience while growing up as having to live in motels, other people's houses, and their car.[6][7]

Her brother's childhood interest in WWE was cited as an influence on her decision to break into the male-dominated world of wrestling, and she cemented her ambition to pursue a professional wrestling career when she was 12 years old.[7][10] She was inspired by the female WWE stars that came before her,[7] especially Lita,[11] whom she met as a child at an autograph signing. A video of the encounter, which shows the young Mendez being brought to tears by the meeting, has surfaced on YouTube.[12] As an homage to her brother, who was in the U.S. Army, Mendez once wore camouflage wrestling attire.[7][11]

After graduating from Memorial High School,[6] Mendez worked several part-time jobs in order to save up the money she needed to both support her family and enroll in wrestling school.[7] She attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, where she majored in film and television production and writing,[11][13] until family and financial issues led to her dropping out six months into her studies.[14][15]

Professional wrestling career

Early career (2007–2009)

Shortly after leaving university, Mendez enrolled in a wrestling school one mile away from her house. She worked full-time to pay the tuition, and started training in March 2007 under Jay Lethal. She debuted on September 29, 2007,[1] under the ring name "Miss April", wrestling on the New Jersey independent circuit.[11][14][15][16]

Miss April joined the New Jersey-based promotion Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) in October 2008, losing her debut match against Jana.[17] After unsuccessfully competing alongside Malia Hosaka in a tournament to determine the inaugural WSU Tag Team Champions, she formed a tag team with Brooke Carter, and on February 7, 2009, they captured the tag titles by defeating the Beatdown Betties (Roxie Cotton and Annie Social).[17] On April 11, Miss April and Jay Lethal won the 2009 WSU/NWS King and Queen of the Ring tournament, defeating Jana and Danny Demanto in the final.[18] In May, she left WSU upon signing with WWE and vacated her half of the WSU Tag Team Championships.

World Wrestling Entertainment/WWE

Florida Championship Wrestling (2009–2011)

Mendez signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) on May 5, 2009, after taking part in a tryout camp that she paid US$1,500 to attend,[19] and was assigned to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), WWE's developmental territory.[20] Mendez debuted at the television tapings on August 13 under the ring name "April Lee" in a fatal four-way match won by Serena Mancini.[21] In September, her name was changed to "AJ Lee".[22] She began challenging for the Queen of FCW title, and at the tapings on February 4, 2010, AJ defeated Serena to win the crown.[23]

AJ then competed in a tournament to determine the inaugural FCW Divas Champion, defeating Tamina in the first round before she was eliminated by Serena in the semi-finals on June 6.[24] AJ later challenged Naomi Knight for a shot at her FCW Divas Championship, but was unsuccessful in their bout on July 4.[24] The following week, AJ and Serena interrupted Naomi during an interview, and AJ watched while Serena attacked Naomi, turning AJ into a villain.[24] Naomi went on to retain her championship by defeating both AJ and Serena in a triple threat match.[24] On episode 100 of FCW TV on August 29, AJ fought Naomi to a double countout in a match where both AJ's Queen of FCW title and Naomi's FCW Divas Championship were on the line.[24] A month later, AJ lost to Naomi in a lumberjill match, thus ending their feud.[24]

In mid-November, AJ dropped the Queen of FCW title to Rosa Mendes.[25] At the next tapings on December 16, AJ defeated Naomi to win the FCW Divas Championship.[26] Her victory made her the first FCW Diva to have held both the Divas Championship and the title of Queen of FCW.[27] She held the championship until the tapings on April 7, 2011, where she lost it to Aksana.[25]

NXT and teaming with Kaitlyn (2010–2011)

AJ delivering a farewell speech after being eliminated from season three of NXT

On August 31, 2010, AJ was announced as one of the six participants in the all-female third season of NXT, with Primo serving as her WWE pro.[28] She began portraying a fan favorite role on the show,[29] with WWE adapting her real life comic book and video game fandom to her character.[30] Throughout the season, a relationship between herself and Primo was teased,[31] with them ultimately kissing on the finale.[32] She also developed an on-screen friendship with fellow competitor, Kaitlyn.[33][34] After surviving until the final three, AJ was eliminated from the competition on November 23.[35]

On the May 27, 2011 episode of SmackDown, AJ made her main roster debut alongside Kaitlyn as a tag team, referring to themselves as "The Chickbusters".[36][37] They were led by their storyline mentor Natalya, and faced the team of Alicia Fox and Tamina, losing to them in consecutive weeks.[38][39] Her first victory came on June 10, when she pinned Tamina in singles competition.[40] The trio feuded with Fox, Tamina and Rosa Mendes throughout the next two months.[41][42][43][44]

In late July, AJ began a brief storyline on NXT Redemption as the girlfriend of Hornswoggle,[45] and feuded with Maxine.[46] Meanwhile on SmackDown, she was attacked by Natalya, who turned on her protégé and allied with Beth Phoenix to form the Divas of Doom.[47] AJ and Kaitlyn lost several matches to the Divas of Doom over the following months,[48][49][50] causing tension between them, with Kaitlyn upset at their repeated losses.[51][52]

Various relationships and Raw General Manager (2011–2013)

In November 2011, AJ began a romantic storyline with Daniel Bryan.[53][54] In December, Bryan won the World Heavyweight Championship and began to display villainous traits.[55] Despite AJ's declaration of love for Bryan,[56] Bryan avoided saying that he loved her in return.[57] On the January 13, 2012 episode of SmackDown, AJ accompanied Bryan for his title defense against Big Show. During the match, Big Show accidentally collided with AJ, injuring her in the storyline and causing her to be taken out on a stretcher.[58] AJ returned on February 3, saving Bryan from Big Show.[59]

In March, Bryan began mistreating AJ, publicly demanding that she "shut up" and claiming that she always got in his way.[60] Despite these actions, AJ continued to stand by Bryan.[61] At WrestleMania XXVIII on April 1, Bryan's reign as World Champion ended when Sheamus defeated him in 18 seconds due to Bryan being distracted after a "good luck kiss" from AJ.[62] Bryan then blamed AJ for his loss and ended their relationship.[63] Despite AJ's attempts to mend their relationship, Bryan rebuffed her multiple times, leaving AJ distraught. This resulted in AJ lashing out towards Natalya and Kaitlyn when they attempted to comfort her,[64][65][66][67] marking the transition of her character as "mentally unstable".[68][69]

AJ then turned her affections to Bryan's rival, WWE Champion CM Punk, as well as fellow WWE title contender Kane.[64][70][71] At No Way Out on June 17, AJ interfered in a triple threat match for the WWE Championship between Punk, Bryan and Kane, helping Punk retain his championship by distracting Kane.[72] As the feud between Bryan and Punk continued, AJ was announced as the special guest referee for their title match at Money in the Bank.[73] While Bryan made advances on AJ in an attempt to influence her, AJ continued showing interest in Punk.[74] On July 9, she proposed to Punk but Bryan responded by proposing to her in return; Punk rejected her proposal and AJ slapped both men.[75] At Money in the Bank on July 15, as referee, AJ counted Punk's pinfall on Bryan resulting in a successful title defense for Punk; as Punk celebrated over a fallen Bryan, AJ was left alone.[76] The following night on Raw, Bryan again proposed to AJ, who accepted.[77]

During the exchange of vows at Raw 1000, AJ announced she had been offered the job of Raw General Manager by WWE chairman Vince McMahon and left Bryan at the altar.[78] Her on-screen authority role began on July 30, where she alleged Bryan only wanted the legal leverage to have her committed, forcing him to undergo his own psychological evaluation. Later, AJ modified Punk's WWE Championship bout at SummerSlam into a triple threat match due to his interference during a number one contender's match between John Cena and Big Show.[79] Meanwhile, AJ continued to exact her revenge on Bryan by denying him a WWE Championship shot and instead forcing him to face Kane at SummerSlam.[80] Concurrently, she began feuding with Vickie Guerrero, who demanded AJ's General Manager role, deeming AJ too childish.[81] Punk later humiliated AJ for her past affections,[82] leading to Paul Heyman also demanding the General Manager position alongside Vickie.[83]

AJ stepped down from her General Manager duties on October 22, due to the stress of allegations of fraternizing and having an affair with a wrestler on the Raw roster, which was later revealed to be John Cena.[84] In the following weeks, Vickie showed evidence of Cena and AJ going to a business dinner, AJ walking into Cena's room, and more.[85][86] At Survivor Series, AJ mocked Vickie's claims but was attacked by the returning Tamina Snuka.[87] The following night on Raw, Cena and AJ passionately kissed each other to give Vickie and Dolph Ziggler something "to talk about".[88] AJ kissed Cena again after his match against Ziggler the following week, starting a relationship between the two.[89] On the December 3 episode of Raw, AJ defeated Tamina in a singles match.[90]

AJ with Dolph Ziggler (center) and Big E Langston (right) in 2013

At the TLC pay-per-view, AJ turned heel after interfering in Cena and Ziggler's ladder match by pushing Cena off the ladder.[91] The following night on the Raw Slammy Awards special, AJ won the Slammy for "Kiss of the Year" with Cena, which was presented by Vickie. AJ and Vickie started arguing, which led to Ziggler intervening and AJ kissing him, solidifying their relationship. In the main event, AJ and Ziggler lost to Cena and Vickie via disqualification after the debuting Big E Langston interfered and attacked Cena on AJ's behalf.[92] AJ later justified her actions, stating that Cena did not care about anyone but himself and that he broke her heart, so she helped Ziggler break him.[93]

In March 2013, AJ re-entered a feud with her ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan after they traded insults backstage.[94] Following AJ and Langston's assistance towards Ziggler's victories over Bryan and his tag team partner Kane,[95][96] she challenged Team Hell No (Bryan and Kane) to defend their Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 29 against Ziggler and Langston, which they accepted.[97] On April 7, AJ accompanied Ziggler and Langston to the bout, but they were unsuccessful.[98] However, the following night on Raw, AJ and Langston accompanied Ziggler as he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Alberto Del Rio to win the World Heavyweight Championship.[99]

Divas Champion (2013–2014)

AJ, as the WWE Divas Champion, with her bodyguard Tamina Snuka

AJ won a battle royal on April 22, 2013, to become the number one contender to Kaitlyn's Divas Championship.[100] Kaitlyn then began a storyline where she received gifts from a secret admirer.[101] On June 10, after setting up Big E Langston to pose as the admirer, AJ revealed it to be a mind game, berating Kaitlyn and leaving her in tears.[102] Six days later at the inaugural Payback pay-per-view, AJ defeated Kaitlyn to capture her first Divas Championship.[103] AJ and Langston continued to mock Kaitlyn,[104][105] with AJ ultimately retaining her Divas Championship from Kaitlyn in a rematch at Money in the Bank on July 14.[106] Later that night, AJ cost Dolph Ziggler his rematch for the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio, after she prematurely snuck into the ring and hit Del Rio with her Divas title, prompting a disqualification.[107] Due to her actions, Ziggler ended their relationship the following night on Raw. AJ exacted revenge by costing Ziggler a non-title match against Del Rio, then she attacked Ziggler and unleashed Langston on him.[108] On August 2, Langston was banned from attending AJ's matches. However, AJ successfully defended her title against Kaitlyn after Kaitlyn's friend Layla turned on her.[109] At SummerSlam, AJ and Langston were defeated by Kaitlyn and Ziggler in a mixed tag team match, putting an end to their feud.[110]

AJ feuded with Paige over the WWE Divas Championship throughout mid-2014

On August 26, AJ started a feud with the cast of Total Divas by cutting a worked shoot promo criticizing them.[111] The following week on Raw, AJ interfered in a triple threat number one contender's match between the Total Divas of Natalya, Naomi and Brie Bella, resulting in the match being stopped when they all attacked her.[112] Thus, AJ had to defend her title against the trio in a fatal four-way at Night of Champions, where she retained her championship.[113] In late September, AJ enlisted Tamina Snuka as her bodyguard.[114] AJ went on to successfully defend her championship against Brie Bella at Battleground with help from Tamina,[115] but was legitimately sent home from the following night's Raw after she showed signs of a concussion stemming from when her head struck a ring post during her title defense.[116] She returned to action at Hell in a Cell where she again defeated Brie Bella.[117] At Survivor Series, AJ captained a team in a traditional seven-on-seven elimination tag team match against the cast of Total Divas, in which she was the last to be eliminated, courtesy of Natalya.[118] This led to a title match between the two at the TLC pay-per-view, where AJ again retained her championship.[119]

In mid-January 2014, AJ became the longest reigning Divas Champion, surpassing Maryse's previous record.[120] On April 6, at WrestleMania XXX, AJ successfully defended her Divas Championship in the 14-Diva "Vickie Guerrero Invitational" match.[121] The following night on Raw, AJ lost the championship after she boastfully challenged the debuting Paige to an impromptu title match, ending her reign at 295 days.[122] It was subsequently reported that AJ had requested time off from WWE.[123]

AJ returned on June 30 as a fan favorite, having quietly disbanded from Tamina. That night, she challenged Paige to an impromptu rematch and emerged victorious to capture her second Divas Championship.[124][125] After successfully defending the title against Paige at Battleground on July 20,[126] AJ was viciously assaulted by Paige,[127] and later shoved off the entrance ramp, briefly injuring her in the storyline.[128] On August 17, at SummerSlam, AJ lost the Divas Championship to Paige.[129] However, she regained the title in a triple threat match, also involving Nikki Bella, at Night of Champions on September 21, making her a three-time Divas Champion.[130][131] AJ's feud with Paige ended the following month at the Hell in a Cell event, with her retaining the title.[132] On November 23, at Survivor Series, AJ quickly lost her championship to Nikki Bella after Brie Bella distracted her.[133] She failed to regain the title the following month at TLC, after Nikki sprayed a substance in her eyes.[134] Following the bout, AJ was granted time off to heal a legitimate neck injury.[135]

Other media

In 2012, AJ became the first female winner of WWE's annual "Superstar Challenge", in what was a 16-person WWE '12 tournament at WrestleMania XXVIII Axxess.[10][136] This received recognition in the 2015 Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition.[137]

She made her video game debut as a downloadable character in WWE '13,[138] and has since appeared in WWE 2K14[139] and WWE 2K15.[140]

AJ, alongside several other WWE employees, voiced an animated version of herself in the 2014 film Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery.[141]

Public image

On February 24, 2015, Mendez criticized WWE executive Stephanie McMahon in response to McMahon's praising of actress Patricia Arquette, who called for equal wages for both genders. Mendez said WWE's female wrestlers receive only a fraction of the wages and screen time of the company's male roster, despite having generated record-selling merchandise and several top-rated segments on WWE shows. McMahon and her father, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, acknowledged and thanked Mendez for her public statement.[142][143]

Personal life

Mendez married Phil Brooks, better known as CM Punk, on June 13, 2014.[144][145] They live in Chicago, Illinois.[146] She was previously in a relationship with her trainer Jay Lethal.[16]

Mendez describes herself as a "tomboy" and credits her brother for getting her interested in comic books, anime, and video games.[11][13][147] She has a tattoo in tally marks on the back of her neck, which read as "6–16–13", commemorating the date on which she won her first WWE Divas Championship.[148][149]

In wrestling

AJ applying the Black Widow to Paige

Championships and accomplishments

References

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