Mendez's career in professional wrestling spanned from 2007 to 2015. She performed on the independent circuit in New Jersey until she was signed by WWE in 2009. After spending two years in its developmental branch, Florida Championship Wrestling, she was promoted to the main roster. In 2012, she rose to prominence through storylines with her "mentally unstable" character, such as high-profile relationships and a three-month stint as the General Manager of Raw. In subsequent years, she won the Divas Championship a record-tying three times and held the title for an overall record of 406 days. She also won the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year in 2012 and 2014 and was voted Woman of the Year by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated from 2012 to 2014.
Since her retirement from wrestling, Mendez has focused on writing. Her 2017 memoir, Crazy Is My Superpower, was a New York Times Best Seller.
April Jeanette Mendez was born prematurely on March 19, 1987, in Union City, New Jersey, the daughter of Janet Acevedo and Robert Mendez. She is the youngest of three children and of Puerto Rican descent. In describing her childhood, Mendez has said that her family struggled with poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction. They lived in motels, other people's houses, and their car.
Her brother's interest in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE) influenced her ambition to become a professional wrestler, which she cemented when she was twelve years old. She was inspired by the WWF's female wrestlers, especially Lita. In 2005, Mendez graduated from Memorial High School. She attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, where she majored in film and television production, until family and financial issues led to her dropping out six months into her studies. Afterward, she started working full-time to afford wrestling training. As an homage to her brother, who was in the U.S. Army, she once wore camouflage wrestling attire.
Mendez was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early twenties. She had previously experienced adverse effects from a misdiagnosis of depression and overdosed on antidepressants and painkillers. This event, which she considers a suicide attempt, caused her to seek proper treatment and the right diagnosis. She credits the condition for giving her the bravery to achieve her goals.
In March 2007, Mendez enrolled in a wrestling school close to her home, where she was trained by Jay Lethal, Azrieal, and Mo Sexton. Beginning on September 29, 2007, she wrestled on the New Jersey independent circuit under the ring name Miss April.
Miss April joined the New Jersey-based promotion Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) in October 2008, losing her debut match against Jana. After unsuccessfully teaming with Malia Hosaka in a tournament to determine the inaugural WSU Tag Team Champions, she formed a tag team with Brooke Carter. They captured the tag team titles on February 7, 2009, by defeating the Beatdown Betties (Roxie Cotton and Annie Social). On April 11, Miss April and Jay Lethal won the 2009 WSU/NWS King and Queen of the Ring tournament, defeating Jana and Danny Demanto in the final. In May, she left WSU upon signing with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and relinquished her WSU Tag Team Championship.
Mendez signed a contract with WWE in May 2009, after she took part in a tryout camp that she paid US$1,500 to attend. She was assigned to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), WWE's developmental territory, and debuted under the ring name April Lee at a house show in late July. Shortly thereafter, her name was changed to AJ Lee.
In February 2010, AJ defeated Serena Mancini to win the Queen of FCW title. A few months later, AJ was eliminated from a tournament which determined the inaugural FCW Divas Champion; she engaged in a feud with the winner, Naomi Knight, and her character became a heel ("bad guy"). In November, AJ lost the Queen of FCW title to Rosa Mendes. AJ then defeated Naomi for the FCW Divas Championship in December, which made her the first to win both titles available to FCW's female wrestlers. She held the championship until April 2011, when she lost it to Aksana.
On August 31, 2010, AJ was announced as one of the six participants in the all-female third season of NXT, with Primo serving as her mentor in the storyline. She started performing as a face ("good guy") on the show and WWE adapted her real-life video game fandom to her character. Throughout the season, a relationship between herself and Primo was teased, with them ultimately kissing on the finale. She also developed an on-screen friendship with fellow competitor, Kaitlyn. After surviving until the final three, AJ was eliminated from the competition on November 23.
AJ made her main roster debut on the May 27, 2011, episode of SmackDown as part of a tag team with Kaitlyn, referring to themselves as "The Chickbusters". They were led by their mentor Natalya and faced the team of Alicia Fox and Tamina, losing to them in consecutive weeks. Her first victory came on June 10, when she pinned Tamina in singles competition. The trio feuded with Fox, Tamina and Rosa Mendes throughout the next two months.
In late July, AJ began a brief storyline on NXT Redemption as the girlfriend of Hornswoggle and feuded with Maxine. Meanwhile on SmackDown, she was attacked by Natalya, who turned on her protégé and allied with Beth Phoenix to form the Divas of Doom. AJ and Kaitlyn lost several matches to the Divas of Doom over the following months, causing tension between them, with Kaitlyn upset at their repeated losses.
By November 2011, AJ was placed in an on-screen romance with Daniel Bryan, who won the World Heavyweight Championship the following month and developed heelish traits. Despite AJ's declaration of love for Bryan, Bryan avoided saying that he loved her in return. On January 13, 2012, while accompanying Bryan for his title defense, she was accidentally crashed into by Big Show and carried off on a stretcher as part of the storyline. She returned on February 3, saving Bryan from an attack by Big Show.
In March, Bryan started acting verbally abusive towards AJ but she stood by him. At WrestleMania XXVIII on April 1, after sharing a "good luck kiss" with Bryan, he was surprised by Sheamus and defeated in 18 seconds. Bryan blamed AJ for his loss of the World Heavyweight Championship and ended their relationship. Despite multiple attempts from AJ to mend their relationship, Bryan spurned her and left her distraught. As a result, she attacked Natalya and Kaitlyn when they attempted to comfort her, marking her character's transition to "mentally unstable".
AJ turned her affections to Bryan's rival, WWE Champion CM Punk, and 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 title by distracting Kane. As Bryan and Punk's feud progressed, AJ was announced as the special guest referee for their title match at Money in the Bank. Bryan made advances on AJ in an attempt to influence her, however, she focused her attention on Punk. Enraged by his disinterest on the July 2 episode of Raw, she interfered in his match and shoved him, along with Bryan, through a ringside table. After they made amends, she proposed to him but Bryan countered with a proposal of his own; Punk rejected her offer and she slapped both men. At Money in the Bank on July 15, as 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 next night, Bryan proposed to her again and she accepted.
During the exchange of vows at Raw 1000, AJ announced that WWE chairman Vince McMahon had offered her the job of Raw General Manager and left Bryan at the altar. Her on-screen authority role began on July 30, where she alleged that Bryan only wanted the legal leverage to have her committed and forced him to undergo his own psychological evaluation. AJ continued to exact revenge on both Bryan and Punk throughout her tenure, denying their requests and booking them in matches against their wishes. On August 27 and September 24, she was involved in separate altercations with Vickie Guerrero and Paul Heyman, in which she assaulted them. AJ was promptly reprimanded by the board of directors and the two demanded the General Manager position for themselves, deeming her too childish.
AJ stepped down from her General Manager duties on October 22, becoming embroiled in a scandal storyline with John Cena. Vickie Guerrero alleged that they had an affair and presented various material over the next month to support her claim. AJ and Cena repeatedly denied the accusations and eventually formed a relationship, though Cena quickly grew reluctant due to her erratic behavior. Meanwhile, Cena feuded with Guerrero's client, Dolph Ziggler, over Ziggler's Money in the Bank contract. During their match at TLC on December 16, AJ turned heel by interfering and pushing Cena off a ladder, causing him to lose. She solidified a relationship with Ziggler the next night on Raw and they teamed together against Cena and Guerrero in the main event, which ended in disqualification after the debuting Big E Langston attacked Cena on her behalf. Subsequently accompanied by Langston as her bodyguard, she explained that Cena had toyed with her emotions and broke her heart, so she helped Ziggler break him.
In March 2013, AJ continued her storyline rivalry with ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan after they traded insults backstage. Following her and Langston's assistance towards Ziggler's victories over Bryan and his tag team partner Kane, she challenged them to defend their WWE Tag Team Championship against Ziggler and Langston at WrestleMania 29, which they accepted. On April 7, Ziggler and Langston lost the match despite her interference. The next 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 April 22, 2013, to become the number one contender to Kaitlyn's WWE Divas Championship. Kaitlyn soon began a storyline where she received gifts from a secret admirer. On June 10, after setting up Langston to pose as the admirer, AJ revealed it to be a mind game, berated Kaitlyn and left her in tears. Six days later at Payback, AJ defeated Kaitlyn to capture her first Divas Championship. While she continued to mock Kaitlyn, they participated in the first in-ring contract signing for a Divas Championship bout. At Money in the Bank on July 14, AJ won their rematch but later in the show caused Ziggler to lose his own rematch for the World Heavyweight Championship. She hit his opponent, Alberto Del Rio, with her title belt to protect him from further head injury, prompting a disqualification. Angered by her unwanted action, Ziggler ended their relationship. AJ exacted revenge by costing him another match, then she attacked him alongside Langston. On August 2, Langston was banned from attending AJ's matches. However, AJ successfully defended the title against Kaitlyn after her friend, Layla, betrayed her. Kaitlyn and Ziggler ultimately joined together to defeat AJ and Langston in a mixed tag team match at SummerSlam on August 18.
On August 26, AJ interrupted the aftermath of a match between the cast of Total Divas and insulted them. She later vowed to defeat every member of the cast and enlisted Tamina Snuka as her bodyguard. Throughout the remainder of the year, AJ successfully defended the championship against the trio of Brie Bella, Naomi, and Natalya at Night of Champions, Brie Bella at both Battleground and Hell in a Cell, and Natalya at TLC. She also captained a team at Survivor Series in a traditional seven-on-seven elimination tag team match against the entire cast, which her team lost.
In January 2014, AJ became the longest-reigning Divas Champion at the time. After fending off title contenders Cameron and Natalya, AJ renewed her on-screen rivalry with SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero, who forced her to defend the Divas Championship in a 14-woman match at WrestleMania XXX. AJ won the match on April 6, marking the first time the championship had been contested for at WWE's flagship event. The next night on Raw, AJ challenged the debuting Paige to an impromptu title match and was defeated, ending her then record-breaking reign at 295 days. Mendez was then granted time off.
Upon her return on June 30, AJ switched to a face role and was no longer accompanied by Tamina. She challenged Paige to an impromptu rematch and won back the Divas Championship. They started pretending to be best friends in a facetious manner. When AJ retained the title from Paige at Battleground, their act escalated into unprovoked attacks. At SummerSlam on August 17, AJ lost the championship to Paige. Their storyline was then intertwined with that of Nikki and Brie Bella, at the behest of Stephanie McMahon, who granted Nikki a championship opportunity. A triple threat match ensued at Night of Champions on September 21, where AJ became a record-tying three-time Divas Champion. Her feud with Paige concluded at Hell in a Cell in October, with her emerging victorious. She changed focus to Nikki Bella, whose sister, Brie, was involved as her "personal assistant". AJ quickly lost the championship to Nikki at Survivor Series on November 23, due to a distraction by Brie. After losing the rematch at TLC the following month, Mendez took time off to heal a pre-existing neck injury.
In February 2015, Mendez spoke out via Twitter amidst widespread criticism from fans towards WWE's treatment of its female wrestlers. WWE executive Stephanie McMahon had praised actress Patricia Arquette for advocating women's rights and encouraged women to "use your voice". Mendez responded that, despite having generated record-selling merchandise and several top-rated segments, female wrestlers in WWE receive only a fraction of the wages and screen time of their male counterparts. McMahon thanked Mendez for her public statement and her father, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, also acknowledged the issue.
AJ returned on the March 2 episode of Raw, saving her former rival Paige, who was being attacked by Nikki and Brie Bella. AJ and Paige allied together to defeat the Bella Twins at WrestleMania 31 on March 29. Five days later on April 3, WWE announced that Mendez decided to retire from in-ring competition.
In her 2017 memoir, Mendez said that the discovery of permanent damage to her cervical spine was the catalyst to her retirement. She had also "felt caught in the middle" between WWE and her husband Phil "CM Punk" Brooks after his controversial departure in January 2014, but wanted to continue wrestling for as long as she could. She made the decision to retire once she had fulfilled all of her goals in the industry.
In 2012, Mendez became the first female winner of WWE's annual Superstar Challenge, a video game tournament which consisted of 16 wrestlers who competed in WWE '12 at WrestleMania XXVIII Axxess. This received recognition in the 2015 Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition.
Mendez's WWE character is playable in several video games: WWE '13 (as downloadable content), WWE 2K14, and WWE 2K15.
A memoir written by Mendez, titled Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules, was published by Crown Archetype in April 2017. It covers her upbringing and career in professional wrestling. The book debuted at No. 10 on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover non-fiction. Upon its release, she stated that writing was "very much the next chapter" of her life and that she had begun work on a second book.
Mendez regards herself as a tomboy and has an interest in comic books, anime, and video games. She has the numerical date of her first WWE Divas Championship win tattooed in tally marks on the back of her neck.
Mendez married former professional wrestler Phil Brooks, better known as CM Punk, on June 13, 2014. They reside in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
An advocate for animal welfare and mental health awareness, she has served as an ambassador for organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).Finishing moves
Black Widow (Octopus hold)
Shiranui, sometimes while standing
Guillotine choke with body scissors
Hurricanrana, sometimes to an oncoming opponent
Sleeper hold with body scissors
Swinging neckbreaker, sometimes back-to-back
Tilt-a-whirl headscissors takedown
Big E Langston
"Right Now" by Tyler Van Den Berg
"Let's Light It Up" by Jim Johnston featuring Kari Kimmel
Florida Championship Wrestling
FCW Divas Championship (1 time)
Queen of FCW (1 time)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Woman of the Year (2012–2014)
Ranked No. 2 of the top 50 female wrestlers in the PWI Female 50 in 2014
Women Superstars Uncensored
WSU Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Brooke Carter
WSU/NWS King and Queen of the Ring (2009) – with Jay Lethal
Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Worst Worked Match of the Year (2013) 14-woman elimination tag team match at Survivor Series on November 24
WWE Divas Championship (3 times)
Slammy Award (3 times)
Diva of the Year (2012, 2014)
Kiss of the Year (2012) – with John Cena