Perhaps the most well known female name in all of professional wrestling is AJ Lee. Her story is one of perseverance, courage, and a little bit of luck. Females aren’t highly regarded by the general public when it comes to wrestling, as there is a popular misconception that the sport is only for men. AJ Lee helped change that image, by not only being great at what she did, but by showing the world that females can be wrestling world champions too. Born by the name of April Jeanette Mendez Brooks, AJ Lee started from the very bottom, and slowly rose her way up to prominence. In 2009, she had just joined the WWE. By 2015, she had retired as one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time. However, the question now is, what happened to AJ Lee? Where is she now, and what is she up to?
On the day of March 19th, 1987, April Jeanette Mendez Brooks was born. The Puerto Rican grew up in New Jersey with her two siblings. Her childhood wasn’t an ideal one, however. She described her living arrangements at the time to be sporadic, with her family spending time in many different kinds of homes, ranging from motels and friend’s houses to their car. Her brother had a passion for wrestling, and would watch WWE a lot. Lee would watch the wrestling league’s popular matches with him, and this was what started her passion for the sport. Although the sport was heavily dominated by men, Lee wanted to become a wrestler herself, and the ripe age of twelve, she realized that it was her destiny.
AJ Lee’s inspiration to pursue this career stemmed from watching Lita, a former WWE star who, like Lee, happened to be female. AJ met her at a signing, and even got her autograph. The moment was filmed and is viewable on YouTube today. The video shows Lee going up to the famous wrestler, getting her autograph, and then the young Lee breaking down in tears, unable to control her emotions.
As Lee got older, she decided that this was the career she wanted to pursue. After her high school graduation, she worked multiple part time jobs to make the money necessary to get into wrestling school and also support her financially unstable family. She didn’t get into a dedicated wrestling school at first; instead she attended the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She moved to New York City to attend, and there she took classes and majored in film making and TV writing and producing. However, this didn’t last, as her family’s financial problems forced her to leave school, as it was too much of a burden and too expensive. She needed to cut down on something in order to be able to afford to support her family, and unfortunately for her, that meant leaving school.
However, AJ Lee did not give up. She soon started attending a wrestling school very close to her home. In order to pay for the school’s tuition costs, she worked a full time job. Her passion and determination was relentless and inspiring. She got a coach, Jay Lethal, who helped her train to be a professional wrestler. She started her career under the name “Miss April”. She then started her career. Her first match was in the WSU, or Women Superstars Uncensored. She didn’t win her first match, but that wasn’t a bad thing, as it gave her experience and she had many more matches in her future. She then had a match with a partner, Malia Hosaka, and they fought together for the title of the very first Women Superstars Uncensored Tag Team Champions. That was unsuccessful, so she went at it again with a new partner, Brooke Carter. In 2009, the two fought together and won the title, further pushing Lee into the spotlight and giving her career a much needed push in the right direction. She then entered another big match with her training partner Jay Lethal, and together they took down Danny Demanto and Jana Demanto in the final round, giving them the title of the winners of the 2009 WSU/NWS King and Queen of the Ring tournament. All the publicity she was receiving did her well, as she soon received offers from the WWE, and decided to sign there and leave WSU. Her legacy had begun.
Lee was put into Florida Championship Wrestling, also referred to as the FCW, which was the WWE’s developmental league for new wrestlers to get further acquainted to the sport. She changed her wrestling name to April Lee before her first match in the professional wrestling league. Her first televised match was a four way wrestling match, where she gave a valiant effort but lost to Serena Mancini. A month later, she changed her name to what would be her final wrestling name and what she would forever be referred to as: AJ Lee.
AJ Lee continued to attempt to rise in the rankings. She joined a tournament that would determine the very first Florida Championship Wrestling Divas Champion. She defeated her first opponent, Tamina, in the first round of the match. Hype for AJ Lee was building up at an incredibly rapid pace, unlike any before for a wrestler new to the game. In the next round, however, she lost to Serena, who she had lost to before. Shortly after, Lee decided to challenge fellow female wrestler Naomi Knight, and the winner would receive Naomi’s Florida Championship Wrestling Divas Champion title. AJ Lee fought valiantly once again, but she fell short of winning and came away with nothing. Serena and Lee saw Naomi doing an interview a week later, and they went over to watch. Serena started to attack Naomi, while Lee stood there and did nothing. This changed Lee’s public perception, as she was now considered one of the villains of the league, and all of female wrestling. Serena was able to take Naomi’s title away from her, but Naomi got it back shortly after. After a few more matches between the two, Naomi and Lee’s feud ended, with Lee losing one last time in a lumberjill match.
Shortly after, AJ joined NXT, and she participated in the third season of the show. Her partner, Primo, fought alongside her, although with less recognition, as AJ Lee had finally become a star. She was considered the “fan favorite” of the show. A relationship between her and her partner Primo was teased throughout the show, with them even kissing at one point, however it was most likely a stunt to draw attention from men around the world watching at home. She soon developed a close friendship with her competitor Kaitlyn. Although AJ was the fan favorite to win the NXT tournament, she was kicked off after lasting long enough to make the top three.
However, on an episode of the WWE wrestling show Smackdown, AJ teamed up with her friend Kaitlyn for the first time and they formed a tag team. Their name as a tandem was “The Chickenbusters”. They had some success, eventually defeating rivals Alicia Fox and Tamina. After the episode, she joined the show NXT Redemption to get her payback for losing the NXT tournament. She and Kaitlyn teamed up together this time, however they had limited success. Their lack of winning affected Kaitlyn, and the relationship between her and AJ started to fizz out.
The following year, AJ fell in love on screen with Daniel Bryan, a villainous male wrestler who had recently been named the World Heavyweight Champion of the World. AJ would constantly declare her love for Bryan, but he never reciprocated the feeling verbally. During one match, AJ teamed up with Bryan, however things took a disastrous turn. During the fight, Bryan accidentally ran into AJ, knocking her over and injuring her. She was carried away on a stretcher and had to take time off to heal her injuries. AJ soon returned, however, and she saved Bryan from his arch nemesis Big Show.
In March, the relationship started to die out. Daniel Bryan accused AJ of getting in his way, and publicly told her to “shut up”. AJ continued to be on Bryan’s side during this time, however. This turned out to be a bad decision, as their romance continued up to a match that had Bryan’s heavyweight title on the line. AJ gave Bryan a very long good luck kiss, which took Bryan away from the match mentally for a minute, and his challenger Sheamus took advantage and defeated him while he was distracted. Bryan was infuriated, and told AJ that she was at fault for the loss and that they had to split up. AJ then started to break down emotionally and mentally. When she was confronted by others trying to help her, such as Kaitlyn and Natalya, she would yell and act out of control. This gave her the public reputation of being “mentally unstable”.
AJ finally got over Daniel Bryan, and she started a relationship with CM Punk, another heavily (no pun intended) successful WWE wrestler. She even got in the middle of a triple threat match between her new lover, Bryan, and Kane. She distracted CM Punk’s opponents and helped him win the match. She became fully committed to him, as even advanced from Bryan couldn’t distract her. Bryan had no chance of getting her back. However, Bryan proposed to her after one match in a very bold move. At first, AJ denied him, slapping both him and CM Punk across their respective faces. However, the next night, Bryan proposed again, and his relentlessness rewarded him. AJ Lee accepted his proposal.
The following year, AJ was offered the position of General Manager of Raw 100, and she began to rule over the league. She realized that Bryan only proposed to her to gain legal leverage, and she took back her acceptance of the proposal and started punishing Bryan, even getting him to start his very own mental evaluation. She then made him fight Kane at SummerSlam. CM Punk, shortly after this event, started to publicly make fun of AJ for her past love for him after she modified his championship title after he interfered with another wrestling match illegally. This bad publicity had many people calling for Lee’s general manager position, including Vickie Guerrero and Paul Heyman.
AJ decided to step down from her position as general manager. She then started a relationship with John Cena after Guerrero brought in evidence that they had secretly been in love during her time as general manager. AJ, however, lived up to her billing as “mentally unstable”, knocking Cena off of a ladder and purposefully ruining his chances of winning the match that this event occurred in.
AJ continued her wrestling career, winning a battle royal and stealing Kaitlyn’s Divas Championship title. She maintained that title for two more years, which is the longest in WWE history. However, in 2015, everything changed.
AJ Lee suffered a severe neck injury during a match, and she had to rehabilitate away from the sport for a while. She was gone for over three months, but finally returned to help her old enemy Paige defeat the Bella Twins. They then did another match together; they defeated the Bella Twins again at WrestleMania 31. However, unknown at the time, it turned out that the match would turn out to be the last match AJ Lee would ever fight. A few days after the match, it was announced by WWE that AJ Lee had retired from professional wrestling.
AJ Lee in 2018 – What is She Doing Now
So that brings up the question, where is AJ Lee now? What has she been up to since then? Well, it turns out that she ended up marrying CM Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks. They now live, both retired from wrestling, in Chicago, Illinois. She continues to enjoy her hobbies that include comic books, anime, and video games. These all stemmed from her relationship from her brother. She says that he turned her into a “tomboy” when she was young, and it has carried over throughout her life as an adult.
AJ Lee will always be remembered not only as one of the best female wrestlers of all time, but as one of the most influential famous women of her time. She advocated equal rights, and her fame helped show the world that females could be wrestlers too. But they weren’t just limited to that. She also showed that women can do anything men can. Her legacy will be that she was one of the pioneers of females playing a sport formerly thought to be only for men, and that she did so with a passion and determination that was inspiring to everyone.