WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, Day 2
MIRROR, MIRROR, 8:55 a.m.
With just four nights remaining until AJ Lee graces The Grandest Stage of Them All, perhaps altering the course of a second championship reign at WrestleMania in as many years, Lee rolls out of bed in her Jersey City hotel room feeling the full enormity of the weekend ahead. From Axxess appearances to WrestleMania Reading Challenge finals and then the illustrious event itself on April 7, the unorthodox Diva approaches The Showcase of the Immortals with grace, or at least her own version of it.
Draping a skull-emblazoned sweater over a custom-torn Marvel Comics T-shirt, AJ slinks over to the mirror and ties her hair back in a simple ponytail — the closest she ever really gets to a traditionally “girly” primping ritual.
For a moment, AJ’s gaze meets that of her reflection, seeming to reach a mutual understanding with herself that whatever WrestleMania moment awaits her this year, she will own it.
“When I was really little, I wanted to be a wrestler so I could be like the girls I looked up to,” AJ says, reflecting on her decision to pursue a career in the squared circle at age 12. “My brother then told me that ‘you don’t want to be like your idols, you want to grow up and be better than them.’ To this day, that’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. You shouldn’t want to replicate somebody just because you like them. You can respect what they’ve done, but you should also want to surpass them.”
CHUCK WILD, 9:22 a.m.
As a sophomore in high school, AJ Lee stepped into her first pair of Chuck Taylors, igniting a lifelong love affair with Converse’s vintage basketball sneakers that would later entwine with her in-ring devotion. After all, who needs kickpads or wrestling boots when knee-high Chucks will do?
“I have probably more than 40 or 50 pairs of Chucks, which is probably unhealthy … I should see a doctor,” AJ says, displaying her candy-colored assortment of the classic lace-ups, including a pair themed after Batman villainess Poison Ivy and a “Wizard of Oz” ruby slipper–esque tandem. “There’s no place like home” indeed.
In addition to her Converse collection, which she keeps pristine and plastic-bagged until they’re worn in the ring, AJ always ensures that she has “casual” Chucks on hand, which she gleefully scuffs.
“Chucks are cooler when they’re dirty,” AJ affirms. “I actually stepped on somebody’s the other day because they were too clean.”
A PICTURE’S WORTH … 9:44 a.m.
Carefully laid out across AJ Lee’s desk, otherwise overtaken by her massive WrestleMania itinerary and Grant Morrison–penned “Batman” comics, are five photographs that the Diva calls her “good luck charms” for her chaotic WrestleMania Week, a portrait of her curiously named blond Chihuahua “Señor Nacho Cheese Mendez” peering up at her from the center of the arrangement. In an age of digitized pictures, AJ opts for the real deal.
“Since I’m going to be here all week, and since this is a pretty special week, I needed a bit of home,” she says, in an instant reminded of the surreality of her road life transporting her back to native New Jersey for The Showcase of the Immortals.
With her family unable to attend WrestleMania this year, AJ holds close snapshots of her parents, her two best childhood friends, her older siblings Robert and Erica, and the undisputed “love of her life,” the aforementioned “Cheese.” It appears, in this instance, Dolph Ziggler will have to settle for second place.
Just prior to her life-changing tryout at WWE developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling, AJ Lee worked as a secretary at a spa in Hoboken that neighbors a gym … a gym she never actually used despite the close proximity.
Intensely focused on her workout — she doesn’t even listen to music — AJ approaches this ritual in a way that belies the fact that she’s still relatively new at it.
“The first time I ever actually lifted a weight was three years ago at our training facility at FCW,” AJ admits. “That kind of brought me into this lifestyle I was never used to.”
Now, wholly confident as she locks plates into place for her muscle-building regimen of squats, deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, the diminutive but increasingly powerful Jersey native seems to impress even the most seasoned gym goers in the room.
“I lift pretty heavy for my body weight, and I don’t do any of that girly stuff like cardio or any light weights,” AJ says with a laugh. “I go really heavy, and that intimidates some guys. I enjoy that.”
At the last minute, AJ realizes that despite packing enough clothes that could probably have her set through SummerSlam, she needs an outfit for a TV appearance and bristles at the thought of a mall expedition.
“My least favorite aspect of shopping is shopping,” AJ says with a grimace, perusing racks loaded with shoulder-studded blazers, knee-length leather skirts and lime green tops emblazoned with multi-colored, roaring cheetahs.
“I like shopping if it involves food or that GameStop we passed on the way over here,” AJ says, approaching the fitting room with the same enthusiasm typical of a child going to the dentist. “I’m not very good at this.”
After trying on a few combinations, the reluctant fashionista finally chooses a fitting ensemble. The roaring cheetah top doesn’t make the cut.
Garbed in a polka-dotted dress, leather jacket and her Gotham City-approved Poison Ivy Converses, AJ Lee arrives for her first signing session at WWE Axxess, a WWE fan experience that unites WWE Universe members from around the world. But before meeting the throngs filing into IZOD Center, the always unique Diva briefly slips away from the chaos for a quiet convo with Lita, the Attitude Era icon that served as inspiration when she herself fantasized about one day stepping through the ropes.
The pair originally crossed paths more than a decade earlier, when AJ waited in line to meet one of her heroes at WWE New York in Times Square.
Following this clandestine Axxess exchange — the latest in a series of past-meets-present moments that have defined her Garden State homecoming — AJ is ushered to her signing table, an arsenal of Sharpies at her disposal. Ms. Lee, your public awaits.
Lending her two-letter insignia to hundreds of AJ Lee aficionados, the New Jersey native meets WrestleMania Axxess attendees who traveled from far-off lands like Belfast, Ireland, to see their favorite Diva. However, it was a fellow New Jersey girl from East Orange donning knee-high Chucks that brought one of the biggest smiles to AJ’s face.
“The most amazing part of any autograph session is when there’s somebody wearing the tall Chucks or Converse in general,” AJ says of the homage. “It’s something that’s kind of tomboy-ish, but it’s also something that’s cool now for a certain type of girl. I’m super proud to be creating this army of wonderful weirdos.”
This particular so-called “wonderful weirdo” is Crista Christian, who bought her tributary lace-ups one month earlier and vowed not to wear them until she met her role model. In addition to a common fashion sense, the 15-year-old shares the same dream AJ cultivated as a teenager when she herself met Lita: Someday, she wants to be a Diva.
“For anyone that looks up to me, I really hope they’d want to better than me and are better than me,” AJ says in response to Crista’s proclamation. “I hope they blow me out of the water and that they’re their own person—not ‘AJ No. 2.’ But if this is it, hey, come kick my butt.”
After Axxess, her arms filled with fan-gifted “My Little Pony” trinkets and assorted cookies, AJ is greeted in the lobby by WWE fans hoping for a chance to have their picture taken with a former Raw General Manager. Posing for tweet-worthy snapshots with the WWE Universe and signing AJ Lee action figures, AJ finally bids the WWE Universe farewell for the night and vanishes into the elevator for the sanctity of her room.
There, a dressed-down AJ reunites with her childhood friend, who has long gone by the name “KDQ.” First meeting in third grade, the two have a lot to catch up on, but that doesn’t stop the conversation from lingering momentarily on the subject of AJ’s recently acquired Japanese cherry blossom scented candles. Although long since separated by time and distance, the pair clearly has little difficulty picking up where they left off last time.
“Everyone grows up with a dream, but who actually does it?” KDQ asks as AJ looks on, perched at the corner of the bed. “You turn the TV on and she’s there. This is a girl I grew up with and went to school with, someone I kicked and got kicked by, and now look at her. She’s out there kicking all kinds of people. It’s amazing.”