Recently I’ve toyed around with the idea of doing some kind of series posts on here on a series of wrestlers. Originally, with A.J. retiring I kind of wanted to write a post solely about her career and whatnot, but for whatever reason I didn’t just want to do some kind of fandom post for the sake of it. So, I decided to extend it to a group of them. I don’t know how often these will happen – some of them could end up being long posts. (I don’t know, it depends on what this even turns out being.) I just decided A.J. would make sense to do first because she just retired, her career isn’t exceptionally long, and she fits the criteria.
These wrestlers must fit one of three different criteria: 1) A wrestler who I’ve been a fan of since their first day in WWE. 2) A wrestler who I became a fan of the day I started watching wrestling, or at least I did the first time I saw them/remember seeing them, in case one wasn’t on the first show that I watched. 3) A wrestler that is Chris Jericho, because I used to be dumb and not like him.
Future posts could include: Rob Van Dam, Edge, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, C.M. Punk, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes.
I would include The Rock and Stone Cold as potential candidates, as the moniker “Fan Since Day One” would apply, but the problem is I’d be starting the posts from day one of when I started watching them – and both of them had relatively short in ring careers post-me starting to watch in 2001, so I’m not sure it’s worth a post about a few years for both of them, who were both in and out during that time, too.
Other more recent wrestlers who’ve only been in WWE for a few years fall under the same problem, with me not having much to talk about. I could go back maybe as far as 2010 to start, so maybe Daniel Bryan might make the cut. Others, like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Paige, or basically anyone in NXT would have to wait quite a while before it was worth it. Also, my mental history of things in TNA isn’t great, so trying to do one on someone from TNA probably wouldn’t be the best of efforts.
Anyways, this is going to start with A.J. just because she just retired and I wanted to write something about it. I guess I’m going to just start talking about her career and see where it takes me.
Fan Since Day One: A.J. Lee
A.J. Lee’s WWE career began in the third season of game show WWE NXT – the divas season that got kicked off tv halfway through and became a webseries throughout the rest of its tenure. The season that Michael Cole just berated everything that was happening and making it unwatchable. That whole concept of a game show to get a roster spot in WWE was stupid. And this particular season of it was awful – but A.J. was one of the few bright spots on it.
A.J., along with Kaitlyn and Naomi, was one of the few contestants that were worth a damn. (The others were Aksana, who was terrible, and Maxine, who while great as Katrina in Lucha Underground, was useless in WWE, and someone named Jamie no one remembers.) But there’s not much to talk about on NXT – she was who I was rooting for, as she was touted as the next Mickie James, but once it became a webseries I barely paid attention. Kaitlyn won the season.
A.J. made her real debut on Smackdown in May of 2011, with Kaitlyn as her tag team partner and best friend, the Chickbusters were born (A play off Trent Beretta and Caylen Croft’s shortlived Dudebusters team at the time), and Natalya as their mentor. They didn’t win many matches, but they were fun to watch – especially A.J. I was a fan of Kaitlyn too, but I feel most of her memorable work was mainly around when she won the title. I guess Fan Since Day One also fits for Kaitlyn too but I can’t really say there’s much to write about. Natalya would soon dump the two of them, turning heel to join with Beth Phoenix as the Divas of Doom, leaving A.J. and Kaitlyn on their own.
But really her first thing of note was becoming Daniel Bryan’s girlfriend in November 2011, accompanying him during his matches. After Bryan cashed in Money in the Bank on Big Show at TLC 2011 and won the World Heavyweight Championship, he started to turn heel, and started treating A.J. poorly. I remember he had a match with Big Show where Big Show ran into her and apparently that was a big deal. She was taken out on a stretcher and was out a few weeks.
Despite Bryan treating her terribly, she continued to accompany him to the ring. And after their good luck kiss at WrestleMania 28 led to Bryan losing the title in 18 seconds to Sheamus (STUPID), Bryan broke up with A.J. A.J. would try to fix their relationship, but to no avail. Kaitlyn would attempt to comfort her, but she only lashed out at her, which was the start of A.J. becoming “crazy.”
Daniel Bryan would start a feud with WWE Champion C.M. Punk, and after their first match at Over the Limit, A.J. inserted herself between them, as she started to try to win the affections of Punk to annoy Bryan. (And let me tell you, it worked. >.>) And also doing the same with Kane when he became involved with the feud. I remember her skipping around the ring in a Kane mask, skipping in the ring around Kane in an intergender match, jumping on him and kissing him before Punk hit an elbow drop off the top rope for the win, and just being flat out weird at the top of the entrance ramp.
It was around this time that the crowd really started to take to A.J. She was the first woman to get legit crowd reactions in years. The last time I can remember a crowd reaction like that for women in WWE (that was for storyline/character, not the cheap “Look a hot chick” pop) would probably be the Trish/Mickie feud in 2006, and this was 2012. There are very few women in WWE that get reactions for that reason, and for that reason alone, A.J. can be called one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE history. (It’s a short list: Trish, Lita, Chyna, Victoria, Mickie James, Paige.)
Punk and Bryan would have a rematch at Money in the Bank with A.J. as the special referee. Before the PPV, once pushed Punk off the top rope and through a table. Also, A.J. proposed to C.M. Punk in the ring, who declined. (For a few years.) Punk would retain the title, and A.J. was left alone. That was, until Bryan proposed to her the next night and she accepted.
Only, WWE weddings never go the way they’re supposed to. And when she was about to say “I do,” she announced that she was actually accepting a proposal to become the Raw General Manager. (A.J. was popular enough to get that role, which actually made it interesting for a bit.) A.J. would force Bryan to team with Kane after going through anger management.
Unfortunately the G.M. role went south when they went with some scandal angle where she was supposedly dating John Cena, with Vickie Guerrero as her accuser. It really wasn’t anything entertaining, and she stepped down. And then actually started a short on screen relationship with Cena, until he told her she was too unstable to go to the ring with him. Despite Dolph Ziggler calling her trash at one point, she helped him retain his Money in the Bank briefcase at TLC 2012 against Cena by shoving him off the ladder. The next night she won a Best Kiss slammy after being part of all kisses that were nominated, and she kissed Dolph, leading to them becoming a new pairing, and Dolph ridding himself of Vickie.
A.J. would now be on-screen girlfriend of Dolph, and to go along with that, Big E. debuted from NXT as their bodyguard. Dolph would continue to feud with John Cena going into the Royal Rumble. At WrestleMania, Dolph and Big E. would go after the tag team titles, facing A.J.’s old flames Daniel Bryan and Kane in a losing effort, because Dolph was passed over for the World Title shot at Mania against Alberto Del Rio for useless Jack Swagger, because apparently Del Rio needed a WrestleMania moment which is inaccurate.
However, the next night on Raw, Dolph would cash in to win the World Heavyweight Championship, with A.J. by his side. (Watch it and tell me she isn’t even happier than he is.) Unfortunately, the awesomeness was shortlived, as Jack Swagger – as he always seems to do when someone gets pushed into ahead of him – injured Dolph by giving him a concussion from kicking him carelessly in the head, causing Dolph to go off tv for a month.
During this time, A.J. had won a divas battle royal to become number one contender for the Divas Championship, held by former best friend Kaitlyn. I for one had wanted this feud going into WrestleMania that year – it was the first women’s title match that had story going into it. Sure, the story would be hard for some to find, but if you were paying attention you knew it existed. You knew they were real life best friends, you knew they were on screen tag team partners and friends, and that their friendship had ended the year prior. There was more, but that’s all you need to know. Women in WWE almost never got real storylines, and this was one that happened naturally thanks to the development of A.J.’s character (another thing few women get).
That said, the battle royal was before Extreme Rules I believe, and not much happened with the storyline for a bit – it probably had to do with Dolph’s injury – until A.J. and Kaitlyn had a fight backstage at the PPV. Over the next month, Kaitlyn would receive notes from a secret admirer, who turned out to be Big E. the week before Payback – it was revealed to be a scheme by A.J. to get into Kaitlyn’s head.
What wasn’t to be at WrestleMania that year was my benefit, as A.J. would go on to face Kaitlyn at Payback for the Divas Championship in Chicago, where I got to watch it live, and she won the championship in (at the time, and still true) best women’s matches in recent memory. I’m proud to say I was there live.
Dolph also returned on that show to defend the World Title against Alberto Del Rio, but he lost. That was still an awful decision, even though they basically had to turn Dolph face. Sadly Dolph and A.J. were only a power couple for like an hour.
Over the next month, the A.J./Kaitlyn and Dolph/Del Rio feuds would continue, with A.J. retaining at Money in the Bank in another good match, and A.J. accidentally costing Dolph the title in his match. Dolph would dump her the next night, and she would have Big E. attack him the next night, finishing Dolph’s face turn. Dolph and Kaitlyn would defeat Big E. and A.J. at SummerSlam to end the feud.
A.J. had already reached levels of success that few women before her had in WWE by this point, but it was around this time business started to pick up. Up until this point, an idiot could tie her success to the wrestlers she was attached to – and to a certain extent that would be right. To say A.J. didn’t benefit from working with big names for basically two years would be wrong – but while she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she did up to this point without them, you’d also be wrong to say she only reached those levels of stardom because of them. WWE positioned her to succeed by placing her with the likes of C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and John Cena, and she took that ball and ran with it. Her success wouldn’t have happened without what she brought to the character herself.
Around this time, WWE’s moronic reality tv show, Total Divas, had begun – and so had its reign of terror over the women’s division. Instead of quality storylines like A.J./Kaitlyn, we started to get useless storylines between the Bellas and Natalya – they were not only useless, but they were clunky (for lack of better word), as they would try to match up random events on the television show taped months previously with matches that represented those issues. What you would get was a match that would take place, someone would win, and then it would lead to nothing. Natalya made a Bella a painting. The Bella didn’t like it. They had a match. No one cared. WWE couldn’t decide whether the stuff that happened on the reality tv show was canon to WWE programming or not, and because of that, no one cared.
How do you fix that? You throw the one shining light of the women’s division into the mix, A.J. Lee. A.J. comes out and tears all of them a new one, dropping a pipebombshell not too different from her husbands’. It was yet another one of the best women’s segments in recent memory – all of the useless trash that was in the division got what was coming to them, and it was glorious. (The only bad part of the segment was the Bellas not knowing how to shut the fuck up and to take the truth like the useless trash that they are.)
Here’s the famous promo with the Bella Twins muted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACut3qoLDNc
This led to A.J. feuding with all of the women on Total Divas, and month after month, PPV after PPV, defeating them all handily – including a Fatal 4-Way against Natalya, a Bella, and Naomi I believe, two matches with Brie Bella, and one against Naomi to end the year of 2013. Her title reign also saw Tamina becoming her bodyguard. (Big E. stopped after SummerSlam). And after a memorable defense against Natalya in 2013, and an easy defeat of Cameron at Elimination Chamber, her title reign had become the longest of any woman in WWE history. (Keep in mind the Divas Championship is not the same as the Women’s Championship.) (A similar accolade she shares with her husband.)
A.J. also became the first woman to defend the Divas Championship at WrestleMania 30, against basically every woman on the roster – dubbed accordingly as A.J. Lee vs. the World. And she retained. Obviously.
In December of 2012 is when I first started watching the new incarnation of WWE NXT, and I quickly became a fan of NXT Women’s Champion Paige. I had started to hear about her throughout 2012, but only then did I first see her. And she quickly became a favorite like A.J., to the point where I couldn’t decide which one I liked more. And I quickly had become desperate for an A.J. vs. Paige feud – something I knew could be even better than the A.J./Kaitlyn feud. It would be the modern era’s Trish vs. Lita – potentially even better, considering Trish wasn’t quite as good as people happen to believe she was.
So when A.J. came out to the ring the night after WrestleMania, touting how good she was, and Paige’s music hit, I basically lost it. Ok, I yelled “Thank you” at the tv. Fine. (You see how easy it is to get people react to the women’s segments instead of treating them as piss breaks, WWE? Just let women that are talented go do something. Pretty simple.) A.J. egged Paige on into a match an put the title on the line, and Paige stunned everyone by doing what no other woman on the roster could, defeating A.J. for the championship – becoming the first woman to become the Divas Champion and NXT Women’s Champion at the same time, and one of the youngest champions in WWE history. It was only right for someone like Paige to end A.J.’s historic championship reign.
A.J. would take some time off, both to heal (I mean, you can only carry a division for so long without hurting your back), and to get married to fiancee C.M. Punk, who had left the company abruptly in January 2014 due to health issues and WWE stupidity. Paige would carry the title in her absence – unfortunately without being able to capitalize on a feud between A.J. and Paige so quickly hurt Paige in the short run, because outside of the initial reaction of her winning the title, she was thrust into feuds with Tamina and Alicia Fox with no real storyline.
Fortunately, A.J. would return the night after Money in the Bank, during a similar segment to the one she lost her title. She returned after Paige had finished a promo about retaining the title against Naomi, receiving a huge face pop (like a return always gets), and she egged Paige on again to get a title rematch, which she won quickly this time, getting the title for the second time. The A.J. vs. Paige feud was on.
The two would feud for most of the summer, facing each other at Battleground, where A.J. retained. The next night, Paige would finally turn heel. Paige would regain the championship at SummerSlam. And while their feud was good, it wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped – but that’s not exactly A.J. or Paige’s fault. They were only given five minutes or so on each show, when they were certainly capable of fifteen minute classics. And the material they were given could have been better written, too – they mainly would just attack each other each week, and Paige would pretend to still be A.J.’s friend after doing so. They were also being overshadowed at the time by a Stephanie McMahon/Brie Bella feud – a women’s feud that unjustly gave main event segments to a Bella Twin just because she was married to Daniel Bryan who was out with a neck injury and they needed to keep the Bryan vs. the Authority feud going somehow. A.J. vs. Paige with the proper writing could main event a show. The Stephanie/Brie feud cried out for a babyface who really knew how to give it back to someone who is as good a heel as Stephanie is on the microphone – someone like A.J., for that matter. But that feud got the main event segments, the spotlight, and the time, while the real workhorses of the women’s division fot lackluster writing and five minutes to tell that story in the ring.
Don’t get me wrong, their matches were good. They were as good as five minute matches could possibly be. But again, they could have had fifteen minute classics that fans will talk about for years to come. Sadly none of the matches turned out like that when they had every right to do so.
After SummerSlam, their feud continued – only now A.J.’s unstable character seemed to return. A.J. would help Paige win matches, say that she dedicates her life to Paige, bring Paige chocolates, kiss her hand, and so on. It got to be like some kind of pseudo-lesbian angle like the Trish vs. Mickie feud did, only WWE was PG now so they never could really go that far with it – so it kind of fell a little flat. Their feud was also now overshadowed by the god awful Bella vs. Bella shit that was going on at the time, and Nikki was inexplicably put into the championship match between Paige and A.J. just because they needed some representation of that terrible feud in the match to keep people’s minds on it, as they couldn’t afford two women’s matches on that PPV. Instead of allowing A.J. and Paige more time and better stories, we were forced to watch Nikki and Brie tell each other they wish they died in the womb and do things with Jerry Springer because stupid.
Fortunately A.J. would make Nikki tap, putting her in her rightful place, allowing Nikki to go back to doing stupid things with her sister and A.J. and Paige to finish their feud – and making A.J. tie the record for most Divas Championship reigns at 3. Unfortunately we would never get the match we always wanted between the two, a submission match. But A.J. retained at Hell in a Cell – a move I question, as I feel like Paige should have come out of the feud the victor. But clearly WWE wanted to go in a more dumb direction after this, so Paige wasn’t the right person to win as she was a heel.
Now, for as much as A.J. has done for this company, and all of the accolades she has accrued, you think WWE would know better than to pull the bullshit they did at Survivor Series. You don’t have her lose the title to Nikki Bella in however many seconds it was after Brie turned heel for some completely stupid reason, kissing A.J. and distracting her so Nikki could hit her finisher. That kind of writing/booking is bush league. That’s the kind of thing you do TO the Bellas, not to A.J. The only bright spot was A.J. telling the Bellas that talent is not sexually transmitted the next night. A.J. would lose her rematch at TLC due to hairspray, before A.J. would take several months off to heal a neck injury.
A.J. would return in March, saving a recently turned face Paige from a double team attack by the Bella Twins. Paige had feuded with the Bellas since the beginning of the year, facing them with Natalya as a partner at Royal Rumble, and losing due to heel tactics at Fast Lane. Now, with A.J. back and on the same side as Paige, we got the perfect representation of what was going on in the women’s division in WWE at WrestleMania 31 – A.J. and Paige, the best women’s wrestlers in recent memory, against the Bella Twins, the reality tv stars who think they’re wrestlers but only sound dumber and more jealous of A.J.’s and Paige’s success every time they talk. A.J. did more in her three year career than the Bellas had done in their eight years. Paige has only been there a year and has almost done just as much as A.J. They had a memorable segment on Smackdown the week of WrestleMania, the kind the women’s division needs to keep it entertaining. Not only did the feud represent the two different factions, but their fans as well. Anyone on Twitter can see how much childish, naive, unqualified hate Bella Twins “fans” would constantly throw at A.J. just because she was talented and their favorites would never be able to measure up to that. (Why these people would want to look up to Kim Kardashian wannabes is beyond me. A.J. Lee is a role model. Paige is a role model. The Bella Twins are models of what not to be like.) And at WrestleMania, A.J. and Paige defeated the Bella Twins, leaving A.J. undefeated at WrestleMania – and while I had, at the time, had qualms that A.J. had gotten the win for the team, as I had felt Paige deserved it a little bit more – knowing now that A.J. was retiring, I no longer have those issues because it was the last time we could get to see A.J. put Nikki Bella in her proper place – tapping/losing to more talented individuals (something she’ll be doing to Paige, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley, just to name a few, for years to come.) A.J.’s last match would be the next night on Raw teaming with Paige and Naomi against the Bellas and Natalya, in what was one of the best women’s matches on Raw in recent memory.
And while I’m sad we’ll never get an A.J. vs. Stephanie McMahon feud, an A.J. vs. Lita match, or the submission match the A.J. vs. Paige feud deserved, you can’t not be proud of what A.J. has accomplished.
And now, it’s over. Now, it’s time we pay tribute to undoubtedly the best women’s wrestler to come along in WWE in many years. The division isn’t going to die without her or anything, not with Paige still there, and other great talents like Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch waiting in the wings in NXT, not to mention if they start letting Emma, Naomi, and Natalya shine, to go along with the Bella Twins – who, for as much shit as I enjoy giving them, aren’t quite as bad as they used to be – but are still not on the level of those previously mentioned. As long as WWE can start to treat the division with as much respect as the women get in NXT, the division – in a few years time, perhaps – could be perhaps the best it’s ever been. As incredibly as A.J. was – imagine if she was surrounded by more than one competent talent at a time. Imagine A.J. and Paige + the NXT women’s roster + a few on the main roster now, instead of just A.J. and whomever A.J.’s beating this week. A.J. has said she would never retire until the division is better than the way she found it in and saved it from, and while we may be a little ways off from reaching that, we can at least hope that it’s going in that direction.
You can argue “Is A.J. one of the greatest divas of all time?” all you want. What you can’t argue is her success and her accomplishments in a time when women’s wrestling was often pushed aside as something that wasn’t important or not necessary.
A.J. Lee is:
1. A three time WWE Divas Champion, tied for as many title reigns as Eve. (And tell me, which one is more memorable?)
2. The longest reigning WWE Divas Champion in history – not only for one reign at 295 days, and total days for combined reigns at 406 days total. (And no one else is remotely close.) (Nikki Bella broke this title reign in September 2015 because reasons and politics)
3. The first woman to defend the Divas Championship at WrestleMania and retain.
4. Undefeated at WrestleMania.
5. Undoubtedly the most popular woman in WWE this side of Mickie James, perhaps even this side of Lita and Trish Stratus. (Arguably just as popular as them. Arguably more, but that’s hard to judge.)
6. A two time Diva of the Year Slammy award winner
7. A future Hall of Famer
If you look at things with open eyes, you would probably call A.J., at the least, the third, maybe fourth best Diva in WWE history. I guess it depends if you think it’s too early to call Paige better than A.J., which I think it is. You could potentially argue second, depending on how you view Mickie James’ career. (The Trish/Mickie feud was huge, but it was also clearly the biggest part of Mickie’s four year career.) I’m not sure I could ever be bold enough to call her better than Lita, but on some days, I might even do that. (Trish who? Overrated.) There have been other good divas, like Beth Phoenix, Victoria, Chyna, Melina, and a few others – I’d be willing to listen to the Victoria or Beth Phoenix argument, perhaps Chyna, but I probably wouldn’t agree. All of these women deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s use an analogy – Trish and Lita were like the Rock and Austin, Victoria and Mickie James were like the Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho, the Bella Twins are the John Cena (And so was Kelly Kelly, for a time), and A.J. Lee is like the C.M. Punk. And Paige is the Dean Ambrose.
You can argue these things for years if you had too much time on your hands, but when it comes down to it, A.J. Lee is undoubtedly the Best Diva in the World.
#LaterMarks #ButImNotWrong #LunaticFringe #StraightEdgeMeansImBetterThanYou #FollowTheBuzzards #IAmTheEaterOfWorlds #WalkWithTheReapers #AJIsTheBestDivaInTheWorld #PaigeIsTheBloodyDivasChampion #InZayn #BalorClub #FightOwensFight #WelcomeToTheWasteland #SAWFT