“If we let cynicism and a desire to be ‘cool’ and above the masses rule us, then we become less than we could be, not more. Let’s all be more like AJ, willing to mark for our heroes, ourselves, and a really nice pair of Chuck Taylors.”
April Jeanette Mendez, better known as AJ Lee, has not always had the easiest life. She has faced, among other things, injury and times of homelessness with her family in Union City, New Jersey, living out of cars and hotel rooms. During all this adversity, however, she also held onto a dream. This dream was to break into the world of professional wrestling and to make it big–to not just use wrestling as a springboard to an acting or modeling career, like so many young women have done, but to dominate it as thoroughly as Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin did.
Many factors seem to have impelled AJ to lace up the boots. First and most importantly, perhaps, would be how integral watching wrestling was to forming a solid relationship with her brother during early childhood. This is why, at the beginning of her wrestling career he was in the US Army, she wore camoflage ring gear to commemorate how important he had been to her. So many kids in my generation sat in front of the TV watching wrestling together during the years of the Monday Night Wars–maybe even when we shouldn’t have and definitely too late considering we had to get up and go to school the next morning. AJ loved WWE; I watched WCW with my sister, dad and grandpa…but I’ll forgive AJ for that since she’s a Jersey girl and I’m a Georgia boy.
Another important influence on the young AJ, which has become a part of her growing legend, lies in how she met the ultimate, original alternative rock Diva Amy “Lita” Dumas on July 18th, 2001. This, more than anything else, prompted a tiny, slightly nerdy girl to follow her dreams and dominate the sport of her choosing. I felt the same way in 1998 when I met Nikolai Volkoff (and the man who would later become Abyss, but that’s another story) after a tiny independent show in a church fellowship hall. He was huge, he was powerful, his hand engulfed mine. Maybe, just maybe, if I worked really hard, I could be just as big and strong.
Finally, after struggle and toil, AJ realized her dream on June 16th, 2013, by defeating her kayfabe former and actual best friend Kaitlyn to capture the WWE Diva’s title, one of the most prestigious for women in the sport and, to wit, the one that little AJ had pined for all those years ago. To celebrate this milestone she got the date tattooed delicately and elegantly on the back of her neck, under the hairline. It is dainty, clever, and understated…just like the tiny, five foot two inch Lee herself.
Some people, however, simply cannot be happy that a young woman had achieved–at the tender age of 25–one of her lifetime goals. Dave Meltzer, a respected pro wrestling journalist from Wrestling Observer Radio, felt obliged to opine that AJ is a “belt mark” and both will be–and deserves to be–mocked for being so excited upon having won a “fake belt” in a “fake sport.”
A dark, dark part of me likes to imagine someone saying to the face of Ole Anderson, Cowboy Bill Watts, Vader, Stan Hansen or Brock Lesnar–legitimately tough, foul tempered brawlers all–that the sport is a “fake” one. Staged, yes; fake, no. The blood, sweat and tears are all real. Mick Foley’s ear was really torn off, Vader’s eye really popped out onto his cheek and Psycho Sid’s leg really snapped in half. In the world of women’s wrestling Beth Phoenix’s face truly did almost implode, AJ’s hero Lita really did break her neck and my own favorite wrestler, Daffney, really has suffered so many concussions that her brains are like roughly three pounds of scrambled eggs.
Given the pain and sacrifice that AJ has experienced and will continue to experience as she redefines what it means to be a WWE Diva and female wrestler in general, I’ll gladly serve as this little belt mark’s biggest mark, cheering her as hard and loud as I can. It’s like that great sage, the Iron Sheik, says, “If you don’t show respect the legend, you nothing but Hollywood blonde jabroni.” I’m not entirely sure what this means–and neither is the Iron Sheik–but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with earnestness and integrity. If we let cynicism and a desire to be “cool” and above the masses rule us, then we become less than we could be, not more. Let’s all be more like AJ, willing to mark for our heroes, ourselves, and a really nice pair of Chuck Taylors.