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Thursday, September 22, 2016

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WIRTB Review: A Look Back at AJ Lee in WWE

By @SpeedontheBeat

The woman formerly known as AJ Lee helped spark what's currently known as the Women's Revolution in WWE.


Were it not for AJ getting as over as she did with the crowds and viewers, we might not have The Four Horsewomen getting as much screen time as they do, along with the rest of the Women's Division. Slight hyperbole aside, AJ Lee was important to shaping what we now see in WWE's Women's Division. But, should we give her unadulterated praise for everything she's had a hand in...or should we be smarky and marky and whatever other "IWC" buzzwords you want to throw around and be pissed that she's married to CM Punk or whatever (like some'd argue WWE has done)?

In this WIRTB Review, I'll try to take a more objective approach to the subject of AJ Lee's WWE tenure to determine if she:

a. deserves all the praise she's gotten over the years and
b. deserves the hate she's garnered from fans since her rise in popularity and her subsequent retirement

And, yes, like my proto-EOTR posts on SpeedontheBeat.com (shameless plug), this will be GIF-heavy.

To understand Lee's impact on WWE, you've got to look at what the Women's Division was before her. In a few words, you had a couple of decent women's wrestlers and a lot of former models who wanted to go on into TV. The Divas Division was seen, almost uniformly, as a piss break segment. As sexist as that may be, it was partly true. The Divas had a niche fanbase for a niche activity within a niche itself, pro wrestling. It didn't help that many of the Divas couldn't tell convincing stories, throw convincing punches, and were pretty much there to be objectified between hard-hitting men's matches (or be arm candy for their male counterparts).

And AJ Lee, when she began her climb in WWE, was kind of the same thing. She was a victim of the times.


But, the evolution of Lee's character is what helped put women's wrestling over. She started out as a nerdy tag teamer with The Chickbusters, eventually became Hornswoggle's girlfriend (because, it seemed, every women's wrestler had to fawn over Hornswoggle at some point), and ended up with Daniel Bryan during the beginning of his rise.

Without the pairing of Lee and Bryan, the wrestling world could've been a lot different; we all know about the seven-second kiss match at WrestleMania. But, Bryan, through being paired with AJ, was able to show that he could promo with the best of them, heel out with the best of them, and still be a sympathetic character (while being abusive, to a degree). And fans ate it up. They wanted Bryan to get his just desserts and wanted the now-meek Lee to break free of his demand and be her own woman.

And eventually, she did, through putting Daniel Bryan and CM Punk through a table.


Yes, we can argue that AJ's love triangle presence "ruined" a classic match between Punk and Bryan at 2012's Money in the Bank, but I personally think that's kind of BS. The interactions between the three added a sense of reality to the situation that wasn't just about "oh, let's wrestle because you have the championship I want." We all want classic matches, but I personally want classic matches with emotion and story along with my psychology and whatnot. And having AJ Lee there as ref helped add that (albeit somewhat over-the-top) emotion and story. Would she choose to help her old boyfriend, her new flame, or would she just say screw it and walk out?

As time went on, and we got Demon AJ (because why not throw Kane into the mix), AJ became RAW's GM. Do we really need to rehash their whole Becky Lynch parody? No. It was bad. So, let's just focus on Vickie Guerrero tapping out on AJ's bum during one of their matches (you knew it was coming)


But, AJ Lee wasn't just eye candy and booty pats. She was a talent that could actually wrestle. Originally trained by Jay Lethal, Lee gained an edge over many of her women's counterparts. She could wrestle without just being about the sexual side of things (even though she embraced that perfectly with the above Black Widow submission). She also was allowed to be crazy. 


Without "Crazy AJ Lee," I feel that, while a great wrestler, AJ Lee would've been ignored. She gave us something we were missing in WWE at the time, a "crazy chick" that felt real, felt emotionally invested in what she was doing, and was damn good at doing it. Not since Mickie James' run with Torrie had we seen anything this over-the-top and still amazing. 

AJ was maniacal as a heel, and just as uneven as a face. For me, it was great to see her play her former ally Kaitlyn for her first Diva's Championship. It was crazy fun to see her skip her way away after knocking someone the eff out. She wasn't the greatest manager of all-time (that's Miss Elizabeth through and through), but you could see that, when she was a manager for folks like Ziggler, she gave a crap about it. It wasn't stilted. Everything about Lee's performance felt real and she deserves to be talked about when you say "great women talent in WWE" and "great talent in WWE" period, regardless of gender.

So, was AJ Lee, in WWE, without her faults?


Nah. She wasn't the greatest on the mic and her promos sometimes ended up devolving into her screaming and pouting. I get that that's her character, but even still, I wanted something more than "RAWR! I'M A CRAZY CHICK!" at times. Additionally, some of her best mic moments became slightly underdeveloped as time went on. When she dropped her "Pipe Bombshell," she was allowed to destroy the entire Divas division in one promo. But, WWE had no follow-up and AJ just went back to being a crazy chick essentially. 

During AJ's feud with Paige, it was less wrestling and more lesbian pollen wackiness. Like I said, AJ played up the sexy factor and ran with it. That's great. But, her character's methods became less mind games and more "maybe I want to bump uglies with you, Paige. So, I'm going to Mickie James your ass."


The sexual tension was cool. However, that's all we usually got from the original feuds between Paige and AJ. Sexual tension and "meh" wrestling. It should've been more of a wrestling story and less of a "oh, they're sexy. Let's fulfill peoples' fan fiction fantasies a bit" story. But, again, AJ and other competent women's wrestlers were victims of the Diva mindset.

Eventually, though, we got to my intro to this piece. AJ saying "screw this. Let's make women's wrestling more than piss breaks and sex to these boys." And, after AJ left, the Divas Revolution began. So, again, had it not been for AJ speaking up, things may've continued down similar paths. We wouldn't see Bayley versus Sasha Banks in a MOTY-caliber match in WWE. I know that I'm giving AJ a ton of credit where she may not completely deserve it, but without AJ, the Women's Division would've been a mess (before and after she left).

So, was the career of AJ Lee really that bad for the WWE and its fanbase? No. Sure, there were some WTF moments, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. So, the next time you're watching a Women's match in WWE (because "Divas" is dead, outside of Total Divas), and you see some ish you thought you'd never see in a Women's WWE match, thank AJ Lee for helping to get the ball rolling. 

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