In news that seemed all too predictable, AJ Lee (April Mendez-Brooks) has retired from active competition in WWE. This news is sudden, but it was also expected. Over the last year, AJ has clearly been slowly distancing herself from the industry as a character. Everyone in our little bubble clearly knows that last June she married CM Punk about six months after he retired. With the way their ending was, it isn’t shocking that just over a year later, the wife follows. I’m not saying that AJ is leaving for any other reason other than her own. She has earned the right to depart this industry on her own terms. As AJ Lee does just that, I’d like to take a trip down memory lane to remind everyone exactly who we are losing.
We are losing the greatest female professional wrestler in a decade. One of the most iconic names in women’s wrestling history. It didn’t start out that way, but as she hangs up her Chuck Taylors that is exactly the legacy that AJ leaves behind. I remember seeing AJ for the first time as a part of “The Chickbusters”. Formed with Kaitlyn, The Chickbusters ended up feuding with Natalya/Beth Phoenix as they formed the Divas of Doom. I remembered AJ because she was different. She was smaller and her dynamic was different. I remember thinking that she did a hell of a job putting over the Divas of Doom. Since the purpose of that feud was for the latter to be super dominate, it worked. I paid attention. AJ sort of felt like Daniel Bryan to me when he first started. There was something there, but it hadn’t formed yet. I wasn’t the only one.
AJ was a crucial part of putting over Daniel Bryan’s heel persona and the very beginning of the Yes Movement. His treatment of her was pivotal to putting him over as dominating to anyone he could abuse and cowardly when it came to his matches. She added the layers to his character that allowed him to stay over. That story took the pair right into the CM Punk title reign as Bryan and Punk feuded over the WWE Championship. It is funny as a wrestling journalist and fan to look back to 2012 when Punk was in the middle of his 434 day title run and Daniel Bryan was at the very beginning of the Yes Movement, but as those two battled for the WWE title, the most interesting dynamic every show was the unpredictability of AJ Lee. AJ was the most popular and over performer in the industry right in the middle of that feud. This is a feat no other Diva has ever accomplished. AJ also did it without being anywhere near the WWE Divas Championship. She wouldn’t even go for the title for another year. AJ Lee was a superstar and she did it as an equal to Punk and Bryan at the top of their game.
AJ’s rejection of Daniel Bryan and acceptance of the GM of Raw created the birth of the “No chant” which in my opinion, is why Daniel Bryan is where he is today. For AJ, the GM of Raw idea wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. It was a good idea creatively, but didn’t translate for one reason or another. The John Cena/Dolph Ziggler feud in 2012 again had AJ in the center which created the AJ/Ziggler/Big E trio which is actually underrated in terms of how it is remembered. The way they ended it sucked, but AJ helped launch Ziggler with Money in the Bank to capture his first true WWE Championship as she finally won the WWE Divas Championship for the first time in a decent feud with Kaitlyn. It came full circle.
AJ Lee became the longest running Divas Champion of all time. AJ Lee was so over that at Wrestlemania 30, she defeated the entire female roster in one match. That match gets no credit because it was used as a pallet between The Streak ending and Daniel Bryan’s title win. AJ vs. The World was the peak of AJ Lee and it isn’t remembered as it should be. Mostly because AJ made Paige a star the next night on Raw before her role started to fade. She passed the torch and has spent the rest of her time on WWE television putting her over as the future. It is a shame that we’ll never get AJ Lee vs. Sasha Banks. That would have been something.
After all that time, the writing was on the wall after her acceptance of the Diva of the Year award from last year when she mentioned all the talent of the future and her hope that one day, one of them will be Queen. There is no doubt that AJ Lee was Queen. She is Mrs. Best in the World. AJ Lee was the constant of what a female professional wrestler should be in this industry. I see exactly why she retired after Mania 31. AJ has nothing left to prove in this industry. As she moves forward with her life away from wrestling, I just hope she understands that a lot of us are eternally grateful. In a world of Total Divas and a lackluster Divas division, AJ Lee was the constant. We needed her. Without her, I shutter to think where the division would be now. Those of us that pay attention understand that the WWE Divas division is in solid hands in the future. I just wanted to remind people that AJ Lee won the throne on her own and then gave it back to the people. AJ Lee has skipped into the sunset.
Thank you Ms. April Mendez-Brooks. Thank you AJ Lee. It was a pleasure.
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