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 interest in WWE when they were children as an influence on her eventual decision to break into the male-dominated world of wrestling, and she cemented her ambition to pursue a professional wrestling career when she was twelve years old. Mendez was inspired by the female WWE stars that came before her, such as Lita, whom Mendez met as a child at an autograph signing. Video of the encounter, which shows the young Mendez brought to tears by the meeting, is featured on YouTube. Mendez worked several jobs after graduating from high school (including being a janitor at day care, a cashier, and a secretary at a fitness center) in order to save up the money she needed to both support her family and enroll in wrestling school.
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 (2008–2009)
Miss April made her debut for the New Jersey-based promotion Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) on October 10, 2008 in a losing effort against Soul Sister 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 known as the AC Express, and on February 7, 2009, they successfully won the WSU Tag Team Championships by defeating the Beatdown Betties.
In the first round of a tournament to determine the inaugural FCW Divas Champion, AJ defeated Tamina on FCW TV on May 16, but was defeated by Serena in the semi-finals on June 6. AJ later challenged Naomi for a shot at the FCW Divas Championship on June 27, but was unsuccessful in their bout the following week. On July 11, AJ and Serena interrupted Naomi during a promo, and AJ watched while Serena attacked Naomi, turning AJ into a heel. Naomi went on to retain her FCW Divas Championship by defeating both AJ and Serena in a triple threat match the following week. On the 100th episode of FCW TV (which aired 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. On the September 26 FCW TV, AJ lost to Naomi in a lumberjill match to end their feud.
At the November 18, 2010 TV tapings, 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 April 7, 2011, when she lost it to Aksana during a TV taping.
NXT and The Chickbusters (2010–2011)
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 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 the October 5 NXT. Over the next four weeks, she won two challenges, and survived elimination on the November 2 NXT. 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 the November 16 NXT. 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 teamed with The Bella Twins against Aksana, Maxine, and Alicia Fox, with AJ's team coming out victorious pinning Maxine, and would afterwards share a kiss with Primo; she also celebrated with her friend Kaitlyn after she was named WWE's Breakout Diva.
On the May 27, 2011 episode of SmackDown, AJ made her main roster debut alongside Kaitlyn as a tag team known as the Chickbusters, being accompanied by their mentor Natalya, in a tag team match against the team of Alicia Fox and Tamina in a losing effort, establishing herself as a face. The Chickbusters were again defeated in a rematch against Fox and Tamina the following week. Her first victory came on June 10, when she pinned Tamina in singles competition on SmackDown. On the June 13 Raw, the Chickbusters picked up their first victory in a fourteen-Diva tag team match alongside Natalya, Beth Phoenix, Eve Torres, Kelly Kelly, and Gail Kim against Alicia Fox, Tamina, Rosa Mendes, Melina, Maryse, and The Bella Twins, with Kelly Kelly pinning Rosa. The Chickbusters and Natalya continued to feud with Alicia Fox and Tamina, who were soon joined by Rosa Mendes in a six-Diva tag team match, with AJ pinning Fox on the June 23 WWE Superstars. Both Chickbusters competed in their first number one contender Diva battle royal for the WWE Divas Championship on the August 1 edition of Raw, which was ultimately won by Beth Phoenix.
On the August 5 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. The Chickbusters lost to the Divas of Doom (Natalya and Beth Phoenix) in a tag team match on the following SmackDown, and were attacked by both members after the match. Throughout the next few months, the Chickbusters continued to feud with the Divas of Doom, losing both singles and tag team matches to them. In November, tension began to be teased between the Chickbusters, with Kaitlyn upset at their repeated losses to the Divas of Doom.
Various relationships and Raw General Manager (2011–2013)
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 SmackDown, AJ accompanied Bryan for his World Heavyweight Championship defense against The Big Show. During the match, Big Show accidentally collided with AJ, injuring her (kayfabe) and causing her to be taken out on a stretcher. AJ returned to SmackDown on February 3, saving Bryan from the 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. On the April 6 SmackDown, Bryan 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. AJ assaulted fellow Chickbuster Kaitlyn when she attempted to comfort AJ backstage two weeks in a row, which lead to a match on the May 11 SmackDown, which AJ won, and was afterwards visited by Bryan, who stated he was moving on from her and going after Kaitlyn. Two days later on Twitter, Kaitlyn announced she was officially breaking up the Chickbusters.
AJ then turned her affections to Bryan's rival, WWE Champion CM Punk, as well as fellow WWE title contender Kane. At No Way Out on June 17, 2012, 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 match between John Cena and the 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, 2012, 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 John Cena's ladder match against Dolph Ziggler on behalf of Ziggler, pushing Cena off the ladder. The following night on the RawSlammy Awards special, AJ won the Slammy award for "Kiss of the Year" with Cena, which was presented by Vickie Guerrero. AJ and Vickie started arguing, which led to Ziggler intervening and AJ kissing him in front of Vickie, officially solidifying her heel turn and relationship with Ziggler. 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. The next day, on a special live episode of SmackDown, AJ justified her actions on MizTV, saying that Cena did not care about anyone but himself and that he broke her heart like Bryan and Punk did before, so she helped Ziggler break him. After The Miz insulted AJ, Langston laid him out on AJ's behalf.
AJ in 2013, after allying herself with Dolph Ziggler.
AJ re-entered a feud with her ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan on the March 8 SmackDown, after they traded insults backstage. AJ and Langston then helped Ziggler defeat Bryan and his tag team partner Kane in singles competition on the March 11 Raw, and the March 15 SmackDown. AJ then challenged Team Hell No (Bryan and Kane) to defend their WWE Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 29 against Ziggler and Langston, which they accepted. AJ got into a brawl with Divas Champion Kaitlyn after Kaitlyn called her crazy on the March 25 Raw. Later that night, AJ defeated Kaitlyn in a non-title match via count-out after Kaitlyn's attempt to spear her through the barricade backfired. Later that week on SmackDown, AJ and Ziggler were defeated by Kaitlyn and Bryan in a mixed tag team match, after AJ was speared and 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.
Divas Champion (2013–present)
AJ won a Diva battle royal on the April 22, 2013 episode of Raw by last eliminating Layla to become the number one contender to Kaitlyn's Divas Championship. AJ challenged Kaitlyn to a title match on the April 24 "Clash of the Champions" episode of NXT, where Kaitlyn won. On the June 10 Raw, AJ was revealed to be 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 her actions the previous night. AJ gained a measure of revenge when she emerged from the timekeeper’s table and wildly clanged the ring bell to distract Ziggler and cost him his non-title rematch with Del Rio. Adding insult to injury, AJ attacked Ziggler and unleashed Langston to give the Big Ending on Ziggler. On the August 2 edition of SmackDown, it was announced that Langston would not be allowed to accompany AJ to her matches anymore. However, AJ went on to successfully defend her title against Kaitlyn after Kaitlyn's ally, Layla, stopped her from spearing AJ. At SummerSlam, AJ and Langston were defeated by Kaitlyn and Ziggler in a mixed tag team match, putting an end to their feud.
On the August 26 episode of Raw, AJ interrupted the celebration over Brie Bella's victory in a rematch against Natalya, cutting a worked shootpromo on the cast of Total Divas, which has come to be known as the "pipe bomb-shell" (equating it to CM Punk's famous "pipe bomb" on Raw two years earlier). The following week on Raw, AJ interfered in a triple threat match between Natalya, Naomi, and Brie Bella, which was to determine the number one contender for her Divas Championship, leading to the match being stopped and her getting beat down afterwards. Later that night, Stephanie McMahon announced that AJ would defend her Divas Championship in a fatal four-way match against Natalya, Naomi and Brie Bella at Night of Champions, where AJ went on to successfully retain her championship. On the September 27 SmackDown, AJ aligned herself with Tamina. AJ successfully defended her championship against Brie Bella at Battleground with help from Tamina, but was 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.
^ abPierce, Scott (20 August 2012). "Q&A: AJ Lee, WWE Superheroine". Esquire. Retrieved 20 August 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."
^"First match revealed for tonight's Raw". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 10 January 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."