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AJ Lee

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AJ Lee
Photograph of AJ Lee
AJ in April 2014
Birth name April Jeanette Mendez
Born (1987-03-19) March 19, 1987 (age 31)
Union City, New Jersey, U.S.
Residence
Spouse(s)
CM Punk (m. 2014)
Website TheAJMendez.com Edit this at Wikidata
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)
  • AJ[1]
  • AJ Lee
  • April Lee
  • Miss April
Billed height 5 ft 2 in (157 cm)[2]
Billed weight 115 lb (52 kg)[3]
Billed from Union City, New Jersey[2]
Trained by
Debut 2007
Retired April 3, 2015
Signature
a.j.

April Jeanette Mendez (born March 19, 1987) is an American author and retired professional wrestler. She is best known for her time in WWE under the ring name AJ Lee.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Mendez began her professional wrestling career on the state's independent circuit in 2007. She signed with WWE in 2009 and spent two years in its developmental branch, Florida Championship Wrestling, before her promotion to the main roster. In 2012, she rose to prominence through storylines with her "mentally unstable" character, such as high-profile relationships and a three-month stint as the General Manager of Raw. In subsequent years, she won the Divas Championship a record-tying three times[a] and held the title for an overall record of 406 days. She also won the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year in 2012 and 2014, and readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted her Woman of the Year from 2012 to 2014. She retired from in-ring performing in 2015.

Mendez has since focused on writing. Her 2017 memoir, Crazy Is My Superpower, was a New York Times Best Seller.

Early life

April Jeanette Mendez was born on March 19, 1987,[5] in Union City, New Jersey.[6] Her mother, Janet Acevedo, was a homemaker and later a home health aide, while her father, Robert Mendez, was an automotive engineer.[7] She is the youngest of three children[7][8] and of Puerto Rican descent.[9] In describing her childhood, Mendez said her family struggled with poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction.[10] They frequently moved between apartments, sometimes living in motels or their car when they could not afford rent.[9][11]

Her brother's interest in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) influenced her to become a professional wrestler.[12][13] With inspiration from WWE's female wrestlers, especially Lita,[14][15] she cemented her ambition at twelve years old.[12][13] In 2005, Mendez graduated from Memorial High School in West New York, New Jersey.[11] She attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, where she majored in film and television production,[11][14] until family and financial issues led to her dropping out six months into her studies.[16] Afterward, she started working full-time to afford wrestling training.[16] As an homage to her brother, who was in the U.S. Army, she once wore camouflage wrestling attire.[12][14]

Mendez was diagnosed with bipolar disorder around the age of twenty, a condition her mother suffered from.[17][18] She had previously experienced adverse effects from a misdiagnosis of depression and overdosed on antidepressants and painkillers.[19] This event, which she considers a suicide attempt, caused her to seek proper treatment and the right diagnosis.[19] She credits the condition for giving her the bravery to achieve her goals.[10]

Professional wrestling career

Early career (2007–2009)

In March 2007, Mendez enrolled in a wrestling school close to her home, where she was trained by Jay Lethal.[14] Around late 2007,[14] she began to perform on the New Jersey independent circuit under the ring name Miss April.[20] She joined the New Jersey-based promotion Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) in October 2008. After little success in her first months, Miss April formed a tag team with Brooke Carter, who together captured the WSU Tag Team Championship in February 2009. She also won the annual WSU/National Wrestling Superstars King and Queen of the Ring tournament alongside Jay Lethal two months later. In May, she left WSU upon signing with WWE and relinquished her championship.[21]

World Wrestling Entertainment/WWE

Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT (2009–2011)

Mendez paid US$1,500 to attend a WWE tryout camp in May 2009, where she signed a contract.[22][23] She reported to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), WWE's developmental territory,[22] and debuted under the ring name April Lee at a house show in late July.[21] Shortly thereafter, her name was changed to AJ Lee.[24] In February 2010, AJ defeated Serena Mancini to win the Queen of FCW title.[25] A few months later, AJ was eliminated from a tournament that determined the inaugural FCW Divas Champion;[21] she engaged in a feud with the winner, Naomi Knight, and her character became a heel (bad guy).[26] In November, AJ lost the Queen of FCW title to Rosa Mendes.[27] AJ then defeated Naomi for the FCW Divas Championship in December,[28] which made her the first to win both titles available to FCW's female wrestlers.[29] She held the championship until April 2011, when she lost it to Aksana.[27]

AJ Lee holding a microphone addressing the crowd
AJ delivering a farewell speech after being eliminated from season three of NXT

While in FCW, Mendez took part in the third season of NXT beginning in September 2010. The show mixed professional wrestling and reality competition formats as six female participants from FCW competed to be WWE's "next breakout star".[30][31] Primo was assigned as her "WWE Pro", the role of her mentor in the storyline.[30] She performed as a face (good guy) on the show[30] and WWE adapted her real-life "nerd" fandom to her character.[32][33] Throughout the season, a relationship between AJ and Primo was teased,[34] with them ultimately kissing on the finale.[35] She also developed an on-screen friendship with fellow competitor, Kaitlyn.[36][37] On November 23, AJ was eliminated in third place.[38]

Various relationships and Raw General Manager (2011–2013)

AJ made her main roster debut on the May 27, 2011, episode of SmackDown as part of a tag team with Kaitlyn,[39] referring to themselves as "The Chickbusters".[32][40] Along with their mentor Natalya,[39] they feuded with the trio of Alicia Fox, Tamina and Rosa Mendes for 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 repeatedly lost to the Divas of Doom over the following months,[48][49][50] upsetting Kaitlyn.[51][52]

By November 2011, AJ was placed in an on-screen romance with Daniel Bryan,[53] who won the World Heavyweight Championship the next month and developed heel traits.[54] Despite AJ's declaration of love for Bryan,[55] Bryan avoided saying he loved her in return.[56] On January 13, 2012, while accompanying Bryan for his title defense, she was accidentally struck by Big Show and carried off on a stretcher as part of the storyline.[57] She returned on February 3, saving Bryan from an attack by Big Show.[58] In March, Bryan started acting verbally abusive towards AJ but she stood by him.[59][60] At WrestleMania XXVIII on April 1, after sharing a "good luck kiss" with Bryan, he was surprised by Sheamus and defeated in 18 seconds.[61] Bryan blamed AJ for his loss of the World Heavyweight Championship and ended their relationship.[62] AJ made multiple attempts to mend their relationship but Bryan spurned her and left her distraught. As a result, she attacked Natalya and Kaitlyn when they attempted to comfort her,[63][64][65] marking her character's transition to "mentally unstable".[66][67]

AJ turned her affections to Bryan's rival, WWE Champion CM Punk, and WWE title contender Kane.[63][68][69] 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 title by distracting Kane.[70] As Bryan and Punk's feud progressed, AJ was announced as the special guest referee for their title match at Money in the Bank.[71] Bryan made advances on AJ in an attempt to influence her, however, she focused her attention on Punk. Enraged by his disinterest on the July 2 episode of Raw, she interfered in his match and shoved him, along with Bryan, through a ringside table.[72] After they made amends, she proposed to him but Bryan countered with a proposal of his own; Punk rejected her offer and she slapped both men.[73] 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.[74] The next night, Bryan proposed to her again and she accepted.[75]

During the exchange of vows at Raw 1000, AJ announced that WWE chairman Vince McMahon had offered her the job of Raw General Manager and left Bryan at the altar.[76] Her on-screen authority role began on July 30, where she alleged that Bryan only wanted the legal leverage to have her committed and forced him to undergo his own psychological evaluation.[77] AJ continued to exact revenge on both Bryan and Punk throughout her tenure, denying their requests and booking them in matches against their wishes.[77][78] On August 27 and September 24, she was involved in separate altercations with Vickie Guerrero and Paul Heyman, in which she attacked them.[79][80] AJ was reprimanded by the board of directors, and the two demanded the General Manager position for themselves, deeming her too childish.[81]

AJ Lee standing inside a wrestling ring with her partners
AJ alongside her boyfriend Dolph Ziggler (center) and her bodyguard Big E Langston (right) in February 2013

AJ stepped down from her General Manager duties on October 22, becoming embroiled in a scandal storyline with John Cena.[82] Vickie Guerrero alleged that they had an affair and presented various material over the next month to support her claim.[83][84] AJ and Cena denied the accusations and eventually formed a relationship,[85][86] though Cena quickly grew reluctant due to her erratic behavior.[87] Meanwhile, Cena feuded with Guerrero's client, Dolph Ziggler, over Ziggler's Money in the Bank contract.[88] During their match at TLC on December 16, AJ turned heel by interfering and pushing Cena off a ladder, causing him to lose.[89] She solidified a relationship with Ziggler the next night on Raw and they teamed together against Cena and Guerrero in the main event, which ended in disqualification after the debuting Big E Langston attacked Cena on her behalf.[90] Subsequently accompanied by Langston as her bodyguard,[91] she explained that Cena had "toyed with" her emotions and "broke her heart", so she helped Ziggler "break" him.[92]

In March 2013, AJ's storyline rivalry with ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan was reignited when they traded insults backstage.[93] She and Langston assisted Ziggler in victories over Bryan and his tag team partner Kane,[94][95] which led to Ziggler and Langston losing to them in a WWE Tag Team Championship match at WrestleMania 29 on April 7, despite her interference.[96] The next night on Raw, she and Langston accompanied Ziggler as he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Alberto Del Rio to win the World Heavyweight Championship.[97]

Divas Champion and retirement (2013–2015)

AJ won a battle royal on April 22, 2013, to become the number one contender to Kaitlyn's WWE Divas Championship.[98] Kaitlyn soon began a storyline where she received gifts from a secret admirer.[99] On June 10, after setting up Langston to pose as the admirer, AJ revealed it to be a mind game, berated Kaitlyn and left her in tears.[100] Six days later at Payback, AJ defeated Kaitlyn to capture her first Divas Championship.[101] While she continued to mock Kaitlyn,[102][103] they participated in the first ever in-ring contract signing for a Divas Championship bout.[104] At Money in the Bank on July 14, AJ won their rematch[105] but later in the show caused Ziggler to lose his own rematch for the World Heavyweight Championship. She hit his opponent, Alberto Del Rio, with her title belt to protect him from further head injury, prompting a disqualification.[106] Angered by her unwanted action, Ziggler ended their relationship. She exacted revenge by costing him another match, then attacked him with Langston.[107] On August 2, Langston was banned from attending her matches. However, AJ again retained the title from Kaitlyn, who was betrayed by Layla.[108] Kaitlyn and Ziggler ultimately joined together to defeat AJ and Langston in a mixed tag team match at SummerSlam on August 18.[109]

AJ Lee making her entrance
AJ, as the WWE Divas Champion, accompanied by her bodyguard Tamina Snuka in April 2014

On August 26, AJ interrupted the aftermath of a match between the cast of Total Divas[b] and insulted them.[110] She later vowed to defeat every member of the cast,[111] and enlisted Tamina Snuka as her bodyguard.[112] Throughout the remainder of the year, AJ successfully defended the championship against the trio of Brie Bella, Naomi, and Natalya at Night of Champions,[113] Brie Bella at both Battleground and Hell in a Cell,[114][115] and Natalya at TLC.[116] She also captained a team at Survivor Series in a traditional seven-on-seven elimination tag team match against the entire cast, which her team lost.[117]

In January 2014, AJ became the longest-reigning Divas Champion at the time.[118][c] After fending off title contenders Cameron[121] and Natalya,[122] AJ renewed her on-screen rivalry with SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero, who forced her to defend the Divas Championship in a 14-woman match at WrestleMania XXX.[123] AJ won the match on April 6,[124] marking the first time the championship had been contested for at WWE's flagship event.[125] The next night on Raw, AJ challenged the debuting Paige to an impromptu title match and was defeated, ending her then-record reign at 295 days.[126][d] Mendez was subsequently granted time off.[127]

AJ Lee standing in a wrestling ring with Paige
AJ Lee standing in a wrestling ring with Paige
AJ and Paige were rivals throughout 2014 (left) before they allied together in March 2015 (right)

Upon her return on June 30, AJ switched to a face role and was no longer accompanied by Tamina. She challenged Paige to an impromptu rematch and won back the Divas Championship.[128] They started pretending to be best friends in a facetious manner.[129][130] When AJ retained the title from Paige at Battleground,[131] their act escalated into unprovoked attacks.[132][133] At SummerSlam on August 17, AJ lost the championship to Paige.[134] Their storyline was then intertwined with that of Nikki and Brie Bella, at the behest of Stephanie McMahon, who granted Nikki a championship opportunity.[135] A triple threat match ensued at Night of Champions on September 21, where AJ became a record-tying three-time Divas Champion.[136][4][a] Her feud against Paige concluded with a victory at Hell in a Cell in October.[137] She changed focus to Nikki Bella, whose sister, Brie, was involved as her "personal assistant".[138] AJ quickly lost the championship to Nikki at Survivor Series on November 23, due to a distraction by Brie.[139] After losing the rematch at TLC the following month,[140] Mendez took time off to heal a pre-existing neck injury.[141]

In February 2015, Mendez criticized WWE's treatment of its female wrestlers, stating they receive only a fraction of the wages and screen time of their male counterparts despite having generated record-selling merchandise and several top-rated segments. Her comments addressed WWE executive Stephanie McMahon, who thanked her for the public statement. WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon acknowledged the issue.[142][143]

AJ returned on the March 2 episode of Raw, saving her former rival Paige, who was being attacked by Nikki and Brie Bella.[144] AJ and Paige allied together to defeat the Bella Twins at WrestleMania 31 on March 29.[145] Her final match took place the next night on Raw, where her team won a six-woman tag team match.[146] Four days later on April 3, WWE announced that Mendez decided to retire from in-ring competition.[146][147]

In her 2017 memoir, Mendez said the discovery of permanent damage to her cervical spine was the catalyst to her retirement. She had also "felt caught in the middle" between WWE and her husband Phil "CM Punk" Brooks after his controversial departure in January 2014, but wanted to continue wrestling for as long as she could. She made the decision to retire once she had fulfilled all of her goals in the industry.[148]

Professional wrestling persona

Mendez's character is prominently associated with her mentally unstable gimmick used during her time in WWE.[10][18][22] This persona, labeled the "crazy chick",[9][149] caused Mendez to feel that she "was hiding in plain sight" due to her bipolar disorder.[9] Her diagnosis was not publicly disclosed until the publicity for her 2017 memoir,[150] nor was WWE aware of her condition.[17]

The "Lee" in her ring name was derived from Wendee Lee, a voice actress in her favorite anime, Cowboy Bebop.[151] She wore various ring attire styles throughout her career, but settled on a T-shirt, jean shorts and Chuck Taylor All-Stars as it reflected her practical style.[152] She also wanted her look to be distinctive and easily replicated for cosplay.[152][153] When performing, she skipped as she entered ringside[18][154] and sometimes used it to taunt an opponent during a match.[137] She primarily performed the octopus hold submission as her finishing maneuver,[3] named "Black Widow" in reference to the Marvel Comics character of the same name.[155][156]

Other media

In 2012, Mendez became the first female winner of WWE's annual Superstar Challenge video game tournament, where sixteen wrestlers competed in WWE '12 at WrestleMania XXVIII Axxess.[13][157] This is recognized by Guinness World Records, as part of their Gamer's Edition.[158] Her WWE character will be portrayed by Thea Trinidad in the upcoming film Fighting with My Family.[159]

Mendez wrote Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules, a memoir published by Crown Archetype on April 4, 2017.[160] The book covers her upbringing and career in professional wrestling.[10] It debuted at No. 10 on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover non-fiction.[161] Upon release, she described writing as "very much the next chapter" of her life, and had begun work on a second book.[10][162] As of December 2017, she was serving as a writer and executive producer of a Crazy Is My Superpower television series adaption.[159]

Filmography

List of appearances in film, on television and on web
Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2014 Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery AJ Lee (voice) Direct-to-video film [163]
2015 Madden: The Movie Trish Madden NFL 16 promotional short film [164]
2016 The Evolution of Punk Herself Documentary mini-series [165]
TBA Rabid Kira Film; post-production [166]

Personal life

Mendez regards herself as a tomboy[16] and has an interest in comic books, anime, and video games.[11][167][168] She has the numerical date of her first WWE Divas Championship win tattooed in tally marks on the back of her neck.[155][169]

Mendez married former professional wrestler Phil Brooks, better known as CM Punk, on June 13, 2014.[170] They split their time between homes in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[171]

An advocate for animal welfare and mental health awareness,[17][172] she has served as an ambassador for organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)[173][174] and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).[175]

Championships and accomplishments

AJ Lee holding the WWE Divas Championship in a wrestling ring
AJ won the WWE Divas Championship a record-tying three times[a] and held it for an overall record of 406 days.[176]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c She shares the record of three reigns with Eve Torres.[4]
  2. ^ The Total Divas cast consisted of Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Cameron, Eva Marie and JoJo Offerman.[110]
  3. ^ She surpassed Maryse's 216-day reign set in July 2009 (recognized as 212 days by WWE).[119][120]
  4. ^ Nikki Bella broke the record in September 2015, with a 301-day reign.[120]

References

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Sources

  • Mendez Brooks, AJ (April 4, 2017). Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules. Crown Archetype. ISBN 978-0451496669.

External links