Mendez grew up in Union City, New Jersey, describing her family's experience as having to live in motels and other people's houses. Mendez cited her brother's childhood interest in WWE as an influence on her decision to break into the male-dominated world of wrestling, and she cemented her ambition to pursue a professional wrestling career when she was 12 years old. Mendez was inspired by the female WWE stars that came before her, especially Lita, whom Mendez met as a child at an autograph signing. A video of the encounter, which shows the young Mendez being brought to tears by the meeting, is available on YouTube.
Shortly after leaving university, Mendez researched wrestling schools and enrolled in one a mile away from her house. To pay the tuition she began working full-time and began training in March 2007 under Jay Lethal. She debuted on September 29, 2007 under the ring name "Miss April", wrestling on the New Jersey independent circuit.
Women Superstars Uncensored (2008–09)
Miss April made her debut for the New Jersey-based promotion Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) on October 10, 2008 in a losing effort against Jana. The following night, she participated in a tournament to determine the inaugural WSU Tag Team Champions alongside Malia Hosaka. They advanced to the second round by defeating the Soul Sisters (Jana and Latasha), where they were eliminated by the Beatdown Betties (Roxie Cotton and Annie Social). Miss April went on to form a tag team with Brooke Carter, and on February 7, 2009, they successfully won the WSU Tag Team Championships by defeating the Beatdown Betties.
AJ then competed in a tournament to determine the inaugural FCW Divas Champion, defeating Tamina in the first round before she was eliminated by Serena in the semi-finals on June 6. AJ later challenged Naomi Knight for a shot at her FCW Divas Championship, but was unsuccessful in their bout on July 4. The following week, AJ and Serena interrupted Naomi during an interview, and AJ watched while Serena attacked Naomi, turning AJ into a villain. Naomi went on to retain her championship by defeating both AJ and Serena in a triple threat match. On episode 100 of FCW TV on August 29, AJ fought Naomi to a double countout in a match where both AJ's Queen of FCW title and Naomi's FCW Divas Championship were on the line. A month later, AJ lost to Naomi in a lumberjill match, thus ending their feud.
In mid-November, AJ dropped the Queen of FCW title to Rosa Mendes. At the next tapings on December 16, AJ defeated Naomi to win the FCW Divas Championship. Her victory made her the first FCW Diva to have held both the Divas Championship and the title of Queen of FCW. She held the championship until the tapings on April 7, 2011, where she lost it to Aksana.
NXT and teaming with Kaitlyn (2010–11)
AJ after being eliminated from NXT in November 2010.
On August 31, 2010, AJ was announced as a participant in the all-female third season of NXT, with Primo serving as her WWE pro. AJ made her televised in-ring debut in a mixed tag team match alongside Primo against Aksana and Goldust in a winning effort on the September 7 season premiere of NXT. The following week, she and Primo competed in another mixed tag team match, suffering her first loss against Kaitlyn and Dolph Ziggler. Over the next three weeks, AJ won a singles match against Maxine and three challenges, tying her with Kaitlyn in immunity points, but she lost a crowd reaction poll to receive immunity from elimination on October 5. Over the next four weeks, she won two challenges, and survived elimination on November 2. Over the next two weeks, AJ defeated both Nikki Bella and Aksana in singles competition, and won two challenges, thus earning immunity from elimination on November 16. Despite winning a challenge and in singles competition against Naomi on November 23, AJ was eliminated from the competition. She returned to NXT on the November 30 season finale, where she was victorious teaming with The Bella Twins against Aksana, Maxine and Alicia Fox, and afterwards shared a kiss with Primo; she also celebrated with her friend Kaitlyn after she was named WWE's Breakout Diva.
AJ made her main roster debut on the May 27, 2011 episode of SmackDown alongside Kaitlyn as a tag team that was occasionally referred to on WWE.com as "The Chickbusters". They were led by their storyline mentor Natalya, and competed against the team of Alicia Fox and Tamina, losing to them in back-to-back weeks. Her first victory came on June 10, when she pinned Tamina in singles competition on SmackDown. The trio feuded with Fox, Tamina and Rosa Mendes throughout mid-2011.
On the August 5 episode of SmackDown, AJ lost a singles match to Natalya, who then turned on her protégé, attacking her and declaring war on the "perky little princesses" that comprised the rest of the Divas division. AJ and Kaitlyn were defeated by the Divas of Doom (Natalya and Beth Phoenix) in a tag team match the following week, and were attacked by both members after the match. Over the following months, AJ and Kaitlyn continued to lose both singles and tag team matches to the Divas of Doom. In November, tension began to be teased between AJ and Kaitlyn, with Kaitlyn upset at their repeated losses.
Various relationships and Raw General Manager (2011–13)
Also in November 2011, AJ began a romantic storyline with Daniel Bryan. In December, Bryan won the World Heavyweight Championship and began to display villainous traits. Despite AJ's declaration of love for Bryan, Bryan avoided saying that he loved her in return. On the January 13, 2012 episode of SmackDown, AJ accompanied Bryan for his title defense against Big Show. During the match, Big Show accidentally collided with AJ, injuring her in storyline and causing her to be taken out on a stretcher. AJ returned on February 3, saving Bryan from Big Show.
In March 2012, Bryan began mistreating AJ, publicly demanding that she "shut up" and claiming that she always got in his way. Despite these actions, AJ continued to stand by Bryan. At WrestleMania XXVIII, Bryan's reign as World Champion ended when Sheamus defeated him in 18 seconds due to Bryan being distracted after a "good luck kiss" from AJ. Bryan then blamed AJ for his loss of the World Heavyweight Championship and ended their relationship. Despite AJ's attempts to mend their relationship, Bryan rebuffed her multiple times, leaving AJ distraught—resulting in AJ lashing out towards her friend Kaitlyn when she attempted to comfort her.
AJ then turned her affections to Bryan's rival, WWE ChampionCM Punk, as well as fellow WWE title contender Kane. At No Way Out on June 17, AJ interfered in a triple threat match for the WWE Championship between Punk, Bryan and Kane, helping Punk retain his championship by distracting Kane. As the feud between Bryan and Punk continued, AJ was announced as the special guest referee for their title match at Money in the Bank. While Bryan made advances on AJ in an attempt to influence her, AJ continued showing interest in Punk, but Punk let her down by not watching her match. A vengeful AJ then sent Punk and Bryan crashing through a ringside table during their match on Raw on July 2. The following week, AJ proposed to Punk, prompting Bryan to propose to her in return; Punk rejected her proposal and AJ slapped both men. At Money in the Bank, as guest referee, AJ counted Punk's pinfall on Bryan resulting in a successful title defense for Punk; as Punk celebrated over a fallen Bryan, AJ was left alone. The following night on Raw, Bryan once again proposed to AJ, who accepted.
During the exchange of vows at Raw 1000, AJ announced she had been offered the job of Raw General Manager by WWE chairman Vince McMahon and left Bryan at the altar. Her first official day began July 30, where she alleged Bryan only wanted the legal leverage to have her committed, forcing him to undergo his own psychological evaluation. Later, AJ modified Punk's WWE Championship bout at SummerSlam into a triple threat match due to his interference during a number one contender's match between John Cena and Big Show. Meanwhile, AJ continued to exact her revenge on Bryan by denying him a WWE Championship shot and instead forcing him to face Kane at SummerSlam. Concurrently, she began feuding with Vickie Guerrero, who demanded AJ's General Manager role, deeming AJ too childish. Punk later humiliated AJ for her past affections, leading to Paul Heyman also demanding the General Manager position alongside Vickie.
AJ stepped down from her General Manager duties on October 22, due to the stress of allegations of fraternizing and having an affair with a wrestler on the Raw roster, which was later revealed to be John Cena. In the following weeks, Vickie showed evidence of Cena and AJ going to a business dinner, AJ walking into Cena's room and more. At Survivor Series, AJ tried to show "evidence" of Vickie fraternizing, but was attacked by the returning Tamina Snuka. The following night on Raw, Cena and AJ passionately kissed each other to give Vickie and Dolph Ziggler something "to talk about". AJ kissed Cena again after his match against Ziggler the following week, starting a relationship between the two. On the December 3 episode of Raw, AJ defeated Tamina in a singles match.
At the TLC pay-per-view, AJ turned heel after interfering in Cena and Ziggler's ladder match by pushing Cena off the ladder. The following night on the RawSlammy Awards special, AJ won the Slammy for "Kiss of the Year" with Cena, which was presented by Vickie. AJ and Vickie started arguing, which led to Ziggler intervening and AJ kissing him in front of Vickie, solidifying their relationship. In the main event, AJ teamed up with Ziggler to take on Cena and Vickie, with Cena and Vickie emerging victorious via disqualification after the debuting Big E Langston interfered and attacked Cena on AJ's behalf. AJ later justified her actions, stating that Cena did not care about anyone but himself and that he broke her heart, so she helped Ziggler break him.
In March 2013, AJ re-entered a feud with her ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan after they traded insults backstage. Following AJ and Langston's assistance towards Ziggler's victories over Bryan and his tag team partner Kane, she challenged Team Hell No (Bryan and Kane) to defend their WWE Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 29 against Ziggler and Langston, which they accepted. Concurrently, AJ got into a brawl with Divas Champion Kaitlyn after Kaitlyn insulted her, and then defeated Kaitlyn in a non-title match via countout. Later, AJ and Ziggler were defeated by Kaitlyn and Bryan in a mixed tag team match, in which AJ was pinned by Kaitlyn. At WrestleMania 29 on April 7, AJ accompanied Ziggler and Langston to their title match against Team Hell No, where they were unsuccessful in their bout. The following night on Raw, AJ and Langston accompanied Ziggler as he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Alberto Del Rio to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
AJ won a battle royal on the April 22, 2013 episode of Raw to become the number one contender to Kaitlyn's Divas Championship. On the June 10 episode of Raw, AJ was revealed as Kaitlyn's secret admirer after setting up Big E Langston to pose as the admirer before revealing the truth, berating Kaitlyn and leaving her in tears. Six days later at the inaugural Payback pay-per-view, AJ defeated Kaitlyn to capture her first Divas Championship. AJ celebrated her championship win the following night on Raw, but was confronted by Stephanie McMahon and eventually attacked by Kaitlyn. In the following weeks, AJ and Langston continued to mock Kaitlyn, with AJ ultimately retaining her Divas Championship against Kaitlyn in a rematch at Money in the Bank on July 14. Later that night, AJ cost Dolph Ziggler his rematch for the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio, after she prematurely snuck into the ring and and hit Del Rio with her Divas title, prompting a disqualification.
The following night on Raw, Ziggler ended his relationship with AJ due to her actions the previous night. AJ exacted revenge by costing Ziggler a non-title match against Del Rio, then she attacked Ziggler and unleashed Langston on him. On the August 2 episode of SmackDown, Langston was banned from attending AJ's matches. However, AJ successfully defended her title against Kaitlyn after Kaitlyn's friend Layla turned on her. At SummerSlam, AJ and Langston were defeated by Kaitlyn and Ziggler in a mixed tag team match, putting an end to their feud.
AJ's record reign ends with a loss to Paige on the post-WrestleMania Raw.
On the August 26 episode of Raw, AJ started a feud with the cast of Total Divas by cutting a worked shootpromo criticizing them. The following week on Raw, AJ interfered in a triple threat number one contender's match between the Total Divas of Natalya, Naomi, and Brie Bella, resulting in the match being stopped when they all attacked her. Thus, AJ had to defend her title against the trio in a fatal four-way at Night of Champions, where she retained her championship. In late September, AJ enlisted Tamina as her bodyguard. AJ went on to successfully defend her championship against Brie Bella at Battleground with help from Tamina, but was legitimately sent home from the following night's Raw after she showed signs of a concussion stemming from when her head struck a ring post during her title defense. She returned to action at Hell in a Cell where she once again defeated Brie Bella. At Survivor Series, AJ captained a team in a traditional seven-on-seven elimination tag team match against the cast of Total Divas, in which she was the last to be eliminated, courtesy of Natalya. This led to a title match between the two at the TLC pay-per-view, where AJ once again retained her championship. On the January 8, 2014 episode of Main Event, AJ defeated her former best friend and tag team partner Kaitlyn in the latter's final match, officially ending their rivalry.
In mid-January, AJ became the longest reigning Divas Champion, surpassing Maryse's previous record. On April 6, at WrestleMania XXX, AJ successfully defended the Divas Championship in the 14-Diva "Vickie Guerrero Invitational" match. The following night on Raw, AJ lost the championship to the debuting Paige after AJ boastfully challenged her to an impromptu title match, ending her reign at 295 days.
^ abLee, AJ (August 9, 2012). 8/9 Extra Time AJ Lee INT (mp3). Interview with Reynolds. Extra Time W/ Reynolds And Marc. ESPN. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
^ abPierce, Scott (August 20, 2012). "Q&A: AJ Lee, WWE Superheroine". Esquire. Retrieved August 20, 2012. "I actually went to NYU for six months, had some family issues that kind of set me back, and I couldn't afford to go anymore. That was the theme going on in my whole life, you know: money stopping me from whatever I wanted to do. My dream my entire life was to be a wrestler, so that was my moment where I was like, Okay, let's do it now. I went to wrestling school and found a full-time job to support it."
^ abMeltzer, Dave (September 6, 2010). "Sept. 6, 2010 Observer Newsletter: UFC 118 in-depth, early Luna bio, WWE responds to Cade, Tony Borne". Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Campbell, CA): 11. ISSN1083-9593. "April Jeanette, 23, started wrestling independently in New Jersey after graduating high school. While doing independents, she attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in New York City. She's got by far the most wrestling experience, and will be far and away the best in-ring worker. She's small and has the cute look, and was at one time the girlfriend of TNA's Jay Lethal."
^Caldwell, James (January 9, 2012). "First match revealed for tonight's Raw". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved January 10, 2012. "In the video, Bryan plays up his new over-confident, success-has-gone-to-his-head persona interacting with Kingston outside of the venue in Corpus Christi, Texas."
^Keller, Wade (January 27, 2012). "Keller's WWE SmackDown Blog 1/27". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved March 24, 2012. "Bryan's avoidance of saying that he loves A.J. while bragging about how much she loves him is very heelish and also very funny."