WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

The chilling resurrection of The Undertaker. John Cena’s first-ever dance on The Grandest Stage of Them All. The redemptive WWE Championship triumph of Eddie Guerrero. There are myriad reasons why WrestleMania XX is fondly remembered by the WWE Universe, but for teenaged New Jersey native AJ Lee, peering down at the ring from the uppermost level of Madison Square Garden, it was more than an experience. It was affirmation.

Almost a decade ago, despite financial hardships, AJ’s father scraped up enough cash for two tickets to The Show of Shows, trekking with his daughter up several sets of escalators to the very top of The World’s Most Famous Arena to settle into their 400-section seats. Although observing from a vantage point that made even Brock Lesnar look less-than-imposing, the Diva-to-be allayed dad’s concerns that she was disappointed in the view. Someday, AJ said, she’d be in that ring.

That someday would come two years later, when AJ competed in her first match.

Through no small amount of persistence, the young woman who once marveled at the boundary-shattering athleticism of pioneers like Lita and Trish Stratus made her way to WWE. This year, The Showcase of the Immortals returns to its symbolic home in the New York/New Jersey area, where the coarse sidewalks that once scuffed AJ’s Chuck Taylors now run parallel to The Road to WrestleMania.

Emanating from MetLife Stadium, mere minutes from where this former “girl next door” spent her formative era in modest Union City, WrestleMania reintroduces the Garden State to a woman redefined: capricious, confident and, at times, downright caustic.

One year after AJ sealed Daniel Bryan’s World Heavyweight Championship fate with a kiss at WrestleMania, the pint-sized provocateur has “traded up,” in her mind, walking (and skipping) hand-in-hand with boyfriend Dolph Ziggler, who teams with Big E Langston — AJ’s beefed-up bestie — to take on Team Hell No for the WWE Tag Team Championship. Any and all kisses at the illustrious event, this time around, are reserved for Ms. Lee’s platinum-coiffed “Ziggy.”

But just as AJ will no doubt bask in the grandeur of WrestleMania, so too will its bright lights illuminate just how far she’s come from threadbare days when a roof overhead was a modest luxury her family couldn’t always afford. In an unprecedented WrestleMania Diary, join WWE.com as we delve into the life of this controversial and enigmatic Diva on her five-day journey to The Show of Shows. But first, let’s retrace AJ’s steps to see exactly where she’s been, and how she found her way back home.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

She’d been among them for nearly her entire life, but AJ Lee finally introduced herself to the WWE Universe at large on Sept. 7, 2010, during the season three premiere of WWE NXT. The self-professed nerd didn’t necessarily fit the mold of what one thinks of when they imagine a “Diva” — she’s more Pokémon than Christian Louboutin — but for legions of WWE fans, AJ fast cemented herself as a “Geek Goddess” they could call their own.  

In the end, AJ’s fervent fanbase brought her to week 12 of the 13-week competition, which was ultimately won by future best friend Kaitlyn. AJ has said, though, she actually won WWE NXT that season … provided, of course, you ignore the finale.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

Brought together by a shared appreciation for unicorns, puppies and other creatures that cohabitate Lisa Frank notebooks everywhere, AJ and Kaitlyn soon cultivated a bond made stronger by hourslong road trips in cramped rental cars and the most inside of inside jokes.

AJ & Kaitlyn soon called themselves “The Chickbusters,” complete with their own not-so-secret handshake, forming a two-on-everyone else united front against convention while having a good time doing it. In-ring successes as a tag team were few and far between at that point, but losses to the likes of Beth Phoenix & Natalya only made AJ work harder. After a lifetime of uphill battles, she was accustomed to the climb. 

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

Once likening herself to a “scared Chihuahua” during her earliest days in WWE, AJ was hardly the most vocal person in the Divas locker room, nor was she at the center of conversation in catering as Superstars traded travel stories, strategized about their matches later in the night or enjoyed the rare sugary indulgence from the dessert table.

Yet she was always observing, taking inventory of her surroundings with the very same eyes that once kept her glued to the TV set every Monday night for Raw. It was perhaps only a matter of time before those captivating brown portals would ensnare the gaze of a potential suitor.

Enter World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan.

Tumultuous is a kind word for the resulting relationship between AJ and Bryan, a union that would ultimately cost the dynamic Diva her friendship with an increasingly concerned Kaitlyn. Nevertheless, Bryan would transport the lovelorn Ms. Lee to Miami for WrestleMania XXVIII — her debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

In the opening contest at WrestleMania XXVIII, Daniel Bryan strode — or more accurately, “Yessed” — into Sun Life Stadium to defend his World Heavyweight Championship against Sheamus, a beaming AJ following dutifully behind him. And part of that duty, as it had been for weeks prior, was wishing her champion good luck in the form of a peck on the lips.  

Bryan beckoned for his beauty, who promptly hopped up onto the ring apron and leaned over the top rope ever so slightly to lock eyes and lips with her bearded beau. A moment later, AJ’s welcoming puckered visage was supplanted by Sheamus’ Brogue Kick, a concussive impact that would not only shatter Bryan’s World Heavyweight Championship reign in a record 18 seconds, but also form spiderweb-like cracks in AJ and Bryan’s union.

It’s all too appropriate, then, that AJ earned the nickname of “The Black Widow” in some circles, sharing the moniker of the potently venomous arachnid known for consuming her male counterpart. Of course, to AJ, the less-than-flattering descriptor is instead reminiscent of Marvel Comics’ superspy femme fatale, Black Widow … and is a label she now wears with pride.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

Following brief and wildly erratic flirtations with CM Punk and Kane, AJ Lee was moments away from becoming “Mrs. Daniel Bryan” at Raw 1,000. But those near-nuptials were circumvented by Mr. McMahon’s announcement that the far-from-ordinary Diva would trade in her uniquely tattered T-shirts and lightning-bolt necklaces for the buttoned-down wardrobe of Raw’s General Manager.

Her tenure wasn’t without hiccups. The Raw set actually caught fire during her first night on the job, and a supposed scandal forced AJ to resign on Oct. 22, 2012, after just three months. Yet as AJ noted the night of her resignation at the IZOD Center — skipping distance from MetLife Stadium — she had accomplished more than anyone expected from an ambitious New Jersey girl. Leaving the arena that night, feeling the cool, familiar fall air on her face, AJ might have cast a glance across the Meadowlands parking lot at the home of WrestleMania 29, not knowing then that the bright lights of WrestleMania would call her home again in 167 days.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

After ending her kinda-sorta-but-kinda-serious relationship with John Cena in grandiose and jaw-droppingly devious fashion at WWE TLC 2012 — bringing to mind the eating habits of a certain species of hourglass- bellied arthropod — AJ is now at the center of triumvirate consisting of her flaxen-haired fascination Dolph Ziggler and her brutish pal Big E Langston, both of whom will vie for the WWE Tag Team Championship against Team Hell No at WrestleMania.

Well aware that she has had very public makeout sessions with 75 percent of the competitors in this Show of Shows encounter (Big E currently fills out every square inch of her friend zone), AJ is equally cognizant of the snickers and jeers that follow her footfalls in the locker room area, and the barrage of keypad criticism that greets her whenever she checks her Twitter stream. But as she noted while receiving her Slammy Award for Best Kiss in honor of a liplock with Cena — one night after knocking him off a ladder, of all things — she’s done worrying about what people think of her, whether it’s her ex-BFFs, former flings or her own fans for that matter.

Although she is far from the doe-eyed NXT ingénue who hoped to be the standard-bearer for geekiness in the Divas division, AJ still carries pieces of the past with her, whether it’s her cherished wrist tape she wore during her very first match or her and her dad’s WrestleMania XX tickets — Sec. 426, Row E, Seats 17 and 18, to be precise. As the fragments of the girl AJ once was and the entirety of who she has become converge at WrestleMania, the world will bear witness as AJ, like WWE itself, returns home.

WrestleMania Diary: AJ Lee, introduction

As the locker rooms empty following the final Raw before WrestleMania, AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler separate themselves from the rest of the roster as The Showoff, Money in the Bank contract-bearing briefcase in hand, draws his raven-haired accomplice close for a goodbye kiss. With hectic WrestleMania travel schedules briefly prying this overtly affectionate duo apart, AJ gathers both belongings and thoughts as she lugs no less than four bulging bags through the labyrinthine backstage hallways of the Verizon Center.

AJ’s departure from the home of the Washington Capitals might be a solitary one, but she’s quick to point out its vast improvement from her last visit to the District of Columbia. On the Dec. 31, 2012, edition of Raw, AJ and her “Ziggy” had their New Year’s Eve toast ruined by a party-crashing John Cena, who doused the duo with an unidentified, foul-smelling brown substance that bore some similarities to chocolate pudding.

The goop wasn’t pudding, AJ affirms, wrinkling her nose at the mere mention of the incident. “But at some point during its life span, it could have been.”

AJ quickly shrugs off the unpleasant (and unhygienic) memory, heading out to the arena parking lot to meets the crisp midnight air and the uncertainties that await as her Road to WrestleMania truly begins.


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