WWE really screwed the pooch letting AJ Mendez Brooks, better known as AJ Lee, capture the hearts of geeky fans worldwide, putting her in a storyline with rebel wrestler-turned-UFC fighter CM Punk, and creating the Divas incubator that would lead to AJ’s disdain for the politics of being a woman in Vince McMahon’s wrestling wonderland.
A three-time Divas champion (holding the combined record at 406 days) and two-time Diva of the Year at the Slammy Awards, AJ Lee was the perfect woman to lead the WWE into a New Era that promoted not only its female talent, but offered female fans new role models of the same sex. But it’s a tough balancing act to be both hot and empowering. After all, it’s a sport dominated by highly-athletic male Superstars and a viewer who thinks (and spends) largely with the brain in their pants. What’s crazy is AJ did it. The 5’2 New Jersey native was wicked sexy, could fly like the best lunchadors in the world, and made little girls everywhere want to lace up their shin-high Chuck Taylors and stand up to the popular girls.
While a lot went right pairing AJ Lee with the WWE, she did plenty that most likely made Vince question whether she was worth signing at all.
This is a look at the photos WWE doesn't want you to see of AJ Lee, and few they actually don't mind you viewing.
15 DON'T: Zigglee
It’s not exactly a feather in the WWE’s cap to be reminded by just how incestual its company can be. Many of its wrestlers, male and female, find themselves romantically entangled with co-Superstars backstage. A quick list includes Renee Young and Dean Ambrose, Natalya and TJ, Nikki Bella and John Cena, Trinity and Jimmy Uso, a weird hookup between Summer Rae and Fandango, and heck even the boss’ daughter dipped her pen in the company ink with Triple H (and other rumored main-eventers). It adds insult to injury when these minglers have a habit of jumping from port to port, if you get my gist. One such example is Dolph Ziggler, whose been with everyone from Nikki Bella to Lana and even the Geek Goddess herself. This photo is a reminder of the time AJ Lee shacked up with the Ziggler, and was taken during a “mini vaca with my mini muffin.” Their vomit-worthy words, not ours. The two even created a celebrity name for themselves: Zigglee. Ew, ew, ew. It’s ironic because AJ’s whole thing for a long time was flirting with different WWE Superstars. But take that outside work and it looks a whole lot worse.
14 DON'T: Killing The Magic
The facade of wrestling is about as transparent as a wet t-shirt contest, but c’mon AJ, why ruin the magic for all the kiddies? AJ Lee’s official Instagram published this photo of the freshly retired Geek Goddess looking chummy with fellow Diva Paige. One follower commented, “It’s Paige. Paige is your friend?” Yeah, explain that to us AJ. For so many WWE followers who associated with both AJ and Paige for their non-conformist images and tomboy je ne sais quoi, the best part about watching these two black sheep was their feud. This head-to-head featured two small but wickedly talented women who had no reservations about being savage. It all began on Paige’s first night debuting on Raw in 2014, where an initial attempt to congratulate AJ on her Divas Champion status quickly turned into Paige pinning Lee and walking away with the title. They would go on to beef for the remainder of that year until forming a tag team at WrestleMania 31, knocking down The Bella Twins. But their Freaks and Geeks alliance didn’t feel like a true accord (and why should it) and forever on they would be referred to as frenemies. If you ask me, and I’m sure the WWE would agree, revealing that the two Divas are buddy-buddy doesn’t help their street cred, and slightly tarnishes the mirage of their heritage storylines. Plus, does WWE really want it’s young female viewers assuming the best way to make friends is by putting them in a Black Widow Octopus Hold?
13 DO: Young Fan
A young April Jeanette Mendez Brooks met her Diva hero Lita during a July 18, 2007 signing. Tears ensued. The WWE loves when their female wrestlers have been life-long fans. Probably because the majority of hardcore viewers are males, and it means something extra special when a young girl gets inspired by the power of WWE’s female talent. Being a lifelong fan is one step up from being a legacy (i.e. Natalya Hart). The whole ‘I’ve been a fan and now I’m living my dream' is literally Bayley’s entire shtick, and Vince is wild for it. This is probably the only reason Bayley is getting time in the ring with Charlotte. But I’ll be the first to say, Bayley will never be as good as AJ Lee. Sorry WWE. At the same time, Paige has a similar background, starting her training at the tender age of 13 and coming across the pond at 19 to sign with WWE. But again, AJ just takes the cake. I mean, what are the odds that this fan photo would have been captured? It’s literally Heaven sent for the WWE. Without any words, it says, ‘the WWE will make your dreams come true.’
12 DON'T: Tell All
Uh oh, she wrote a book. The WWE is most likely bracing itself for the April 4, 2017 release of AJ’s memoir entitled, “Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules.” From the synopsis and teases online, it seems the majority of the book will go into detail about AJ’s difficult upbringing (namely growing up in extreme poverty, surrounded by mental illness, and being abused). However, another topic up for discussion will be the WWE, and how she “forced the men in her industry to view her with respect.” This sounds an awful lot like the foreshadowing of some behind-the-scenes arguments with other Superstars and possibly the boss himself. She’ll also talk about how she succumbed to the pressure put on by the company to look and act like a sex symbol and object for the male fandom… which definitely doesn’t paint the WWE in a very nice color. We’re assuming Vince and Stephanie have already secretly pre-ordered a copy and will tear through the pages with fear upon its release.
11 DON'T: Breaking Necks, Taking Checks
It’s an industry built on breaking bones and shedding blood, but the WWE has gone to great efforts to tone down the demolition of the sport. As stellar as it is for ratings and fan engagement to see your favorite Superstar laying motionless in the ring while a crew of medics rushed from backstage with a gurney, in the great scheme of things it’s bad for business. The WWE does not want a reputation of being cruel to its employees, hence the banning of the merciless Piledriver and severely dangerous Curbstomp. It may have ended up only to be whiplash, but when AJ Lee was knocked off a ramp by frenemy Paige during a SmackDown showing (The Black Widow had just finished a match with Rosa Mendes) the image of a neck-casted Diva did not look pretty. Lee was taken directly to the hospital where she would remain overnight. According to WWE physician Dr. Chris Amann, Lee was not initially responding which prompted the precaution of placing her in a brace and carrying AJ off the stage in a stretcher. Like we said, it wasn’t anything career-ending or surgery requiring, but there’s no doubt that a couple big wigs in the WWE ranks shuttered when this went down.
10 DO: Just Enough Sex Appeal
While crappy Divas like Summer Rae were literally obsessed with looking sexy in the ring, AJ managed what some have considered the impossible; being hot without trying. A self-described tomboy, The Black Widow was famous for her crew-cut t-shirts, which might as well have been turtle necks compared to the mesh and boob numbers of the other females on the roster. Even the cropped midriff didn’t come across as slutty— instead, it worked to spotlight AJ’s killer, almost Herculean, abs. And yes, one sight of those cut-off blue jean shorts, studded belt, and low-profile makeup made us schvitz like a we were in a sauna. AJ Lee was a goldmine for the WWE’s “Divas Revolution,” embodying both beauty and brawn into one perfect package. For 99 percent of her time in the ring (minus one little wardrobe malfunction elaborated below) she was everything the company wanted.
9 DON'T: Push-Up Blunder
Wardrobe malfunctions are a cardinal sin in the modern age of WWE. Sure, we all miss the days when Edge and Lita could bring their bed into the ring and get kinky under the silky sheets in front of a live audience (not to mention lingerie matches), but ever since the fandom of John Cena brought with it a new need for PG content, the company simply does not condone any racy romps. In 2013 we were far into the transition of cleaning up the former sex appeal that defined the '90s and Attitude Era, when during a January match with Natalya, AJ’s cropped black t-shirt was pulled up over her bubbies. She had just finished biting Natalya and came up for air, licking her finger and showing the whole WWE Universe the perfect circumferences of her girls. Dolph Ziggler was in the ring and helped her tug the shirt back down, but he seemed to be the only one concerned, as AJ strutted to the corner, black push-up blazing. She even took to Twitter to capitalize on the faux pas, writing to fans, “If you need two words that aren't 'The Rock' to convince you to watch SmackDown this week, here they are: wardrobe malfunction.”
8 DON'T: So Obsessed With Me
Fans are a part of the packaged deal of being a sexy WWE Diva. Obsessive, creepy-as-Hell fans are however the one bad apple that can ruin the lot. This photo of Orlando, FL resident Armando Montalvo really put a damper on the fun of being an AJ fan, after he was shot at the WWE Performance Center in September, 2015 for wielding a knife. Dubbed as being “obsessed” with AJ Lee, who reportedly wasn’t even at the center at the time of the incident, the crazed fan and his bizarre actions were not exactly the breaking headline the WWE wanted to see waking up from its slumber. A statement from the WWE in regards to the incident reads, “Unfortunately a deranged individual with no WWE affiliation, who had a court order prohibiting him from being on WWE property, was involved in an incident with an Orange County Sheriff s deputy in the parking lot of the WWE Performance Center.” Good work handling damage control, but no doubt wrestling’s head honchos were thinking dammit, AJ Lee.
7 DO: Dorks Unite
I’m willing to bet money that the majority of WWE fans are also connoisseurs of such delights as comic books, video games, and overall nerd affinities. This is where AJ Lee tugs at the heart strings. She’s a total dork. While her in-ring persona was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde between being a girly flirt and a tough badass, the real world AJ keeps comic books on her nightstand and is a die-hard PlayStation and Xbox gamer. This flames WWE’s fire for the Diva, knowing when they send her out for signings, interviews, and events, she can back up her geeky image. Ask what comic books she’s reading right now, or the first video game that got her hooked (Super Mario Bros. and Excitebike, according to an Uproxx interview). You won’t get a mumble and side glace. AJ has always been proud of her dweeby hobbies and it makes us proud to be a legion of losers too. Her less glamorous pastimes lend to her sex appeal too (and oh yeah, the WWE knows that). It makes fans think hey, we both like Grant Morrison comics so I totally have a chance.
6 DON'T: Bite The Hand That Feeds
Back in 2007 when AJ got into the sport via independent circuits, then through her time in WWE’s Florida-based NXT, and even while she dominated the Divas Championship, women in wrestling didn’t have much power. Compared to their “Superstar” male counterparts (the word WWE uses to classify its cream of the crop), the ladies were still being scheduled in filler matches that often got cut, and having their athletic abilities always being referred to on a lesser playing field. I’m not here to argue whether women can ever be as physically intense in the ring as men, but for lack of better phrasing, women’s equality in the sport was wack. In February 2015, a tweet by Stephanie McMahon would put in motion a series of events in company leading to a big change in this arena. The boss’s daughter shared an inspirational photo of Patricia Arquette discussing women’s rights during an acceptance speech at the Oscars. McMahon captioned, “Thank You @PattyArquette for having the courage to fight for #WomensRights on such a grand platform. #UseYourVoice.” And that’s exactly what AJ did. She re-tweeted at McMahon saying that despite it’s female talent bringing in record sales and highest viewer segments, Divas were given a fraction of the wages and screen time compared to the majority of the male roster. OOHHHH! It was literally steaming off the screen. The WWE would eventually listen, (on the outside at least) announcing to the world during WrestleMania 32 that its Divas would now be referred to as “Superstars,” and the Divas belt would be retired for a new Women’s Championship. Then this October we saw the first women’s pay-per-view main-event at Hell in a Cell between Charlotte and Sasha Banks. AJ’s bite back to McMahon could have been the lynchpin in this domino, but you best believe WWE was pissed as hell to see her tweet back in such a way that exposed something rotten kept hidden by the company (and especially during what was promoted as a “Divas Revolution").
5 DON'T: Won’t Be A Total Diva
AJ Lee liked Chuck Taylors, not Christian Louboutins. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Both on screen and backstage AJ hated all things femmy about the vast remainder of her Diva coworkers. Her disdain for the lot of them got a boost in 2013 when she began insulting the Total Divas for their participation in the E! reality show. On an August 26, 2013 showing of Raw, AJ executed a brutal promo saying to the other women weren’t gifted enough to be real actresses and not talented enough to be champions like herself. “I have saved your Divas Division,” Lee continued, “I didn’t get here because I’m cute.” It didn’t good look for WWE to have the crop of its female talent being painted as wannabe actresses who didn’t really care about hard work in the ring. It also didn’t look good that AJ never joined the cast of Total Divas. This really put a barrier between her and the rest of the growing Divas Revolution. Also, we’re pretty darn sure that if AJ wasn’t her small, fit, sexy self, a lot of wrestling doors would have shut for her. It’s just the nature of the biz.
4 DO: Mutter Lover
It’s an unspoken prerequisite for all WWE Divas to have a cause they rally behind. This can be something as simple as trying to be a role model for young girls (the reason Natalya has made it this far in the organization). It helps if the charity or purpose is outside Make A Wish— which the WWE already does a tremendous amount with. Lee’s cause is animal welfare. She’s been an ambassador for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) since 2015. Her efforts really came to light after retiring from the ring, but at that time the WWE still reaped the benefits of having anything she did be naturally associated with their company, almost like a ghostly aura following her. Plus, in all the promotional work done with ASPCA, she presents herself as the AJ Lee of WWE. Lee has also teamed up with PAWS Chicago, and never misses a photo with her scruffy mutt Larry.
3 DON'T: Dated CM Punk
Even those who know nothing about AJ Lee still know that she became CM Punk’s babe. There’s not even a question that their relationship influenced AJ to see the bad in WWE. The former five-time World Championship doesn’t exactly have the sterling relationship with the company that say John Cena does … in fact it would be laughable to say anything other than that CM Punk hates the WWE more than any wrestler dead or alive. Why? He’s been quoted in many interviews saying that the “backstage politics” convolute the purity of two men entering a ring and the best man leaving victorious. Punk has also blamed the company for not caring about its wrestlers’ health. In fact, his outward hatred led to a $1 million lawsuit with WWE medical expert Chris Amann. So yeah, we’re about one-hundred-eighty-bajillion times sure that when photo first surfaced around 2013 of CM and AJ going on dates to Wrigley Field, they were pissed.
2 DON'T: And Dumped WWE For Him
WWE was even more pissed that AJ stood by The Second City Saint, choosing him over the company and sealing the deal with a marriage certificate. Nobody knew that the whole CM/AJ thing would last like it did. I mean, for a Diva that made a whole shtick out of flirting with the male Superstars of WWE, we expected their match to be nothing more than a hot lil’ fling. We’re sure the WWE thought the same. If only the Geek Goddess could have ended up with John Cena, Daniel Bryan, or Kane (let’s be real, Kane would have DESTROYED her in bed). But much to Vine McMahon’s chagrin, they did the opposite and got married on June 13, 2014. Now the more we think of them as a pair, it seems so obvious they would last. They are the same damn person, and if it wasn’t for AJ’s sassy little walk to the ring, she’d be getting all the flack CM got from the company. While CM all but vanished in a flash, AJ would officially retire. Today photos of the happy couple include a fully-clothed AJ watching outside the octagon cage as her man gets his ass whopped at UFC. Can you imagine how pissed McMahon is that the octagon isn’t his wrestling ring. CM and AJ would put Maryse and The Miz, Lana and Rusev, even Nikki and John to shame.
1 DO: The Perfect Foil
It was essential for the WWE to have a Diva that was different. The beefs that went down in the ring among the other women in the company just didn’t feel authentic. Maybe because following a match, you could tune in to Total Divas and see they’re all really friends backstage. The company really tried to push Paige as the first anti-Diva, but in truth AJ got to that spot long before the Diva of Tomorrow. In particular, AJ became the ying to Nikki Bella’s yang, during a time when the Bellas were becoming the hottest thing, but failed to capture the renegade viewer. That’s where AJ came in. Fans that didn’t like the girly, sexbot look of The Fearless One would like the tomboy, natural beauty of AJ. Then you get them both in the ring together and you have a perfect mix. It ends up these two Divas carried their animosity for one another out of the ring and into personal life. As difficult as it may have been working with someone you hate, it looked so damn good.