WWE.com broke the news today (April 3) that, after four years with WWE, AJ Lee (April Mendez) has announced her retirement from WWE and from in-ring competition. AJ signed a developmental contract with WWE on May 5, 2009 and was sent to their then developmental territory, FCW, and was given the ring name of “April Lee”. Her ring name was changed to AJ Lee later that year and AJ would remain a mainstay in FCW until she was called up to take part in Season 3 of the original NXT competition. Despite not winning the competition, AJ would make her way to the main roster, debuting on the May 27, 2011 episode of SmackDown. After initially being used as an unstable love interest for the likes of Daniel Bryan, Kane, & CM Punk (who she began a real life relationship with and ultimately married), AJ would have a brief stint as the RAW General Manager before becoming an active competitor.
At Payback in 2013, AJ Lee defeated Kaitlyn to win her first Divas Championship and, not only would AJ Lee go on to tie Eve Torres with the most reigns as Divas Champion with three overall reigns, AJ would become the longest reigning Divas Champion in history as her first reign lasted exactly 295 days (just 70 days shy of a full year). After losing the title to Paige the night after WrestleMania 30, AJ Lee would request time off from WWE, returning in June 2014, re-igniting her feud with Paige (and later Nikki Bella) that yielded her second and third Divas Title reigns. In December 2014, AJ Lee would again take time off, this time for a neck injury and, after a three month hiatus, AJ would return on the March 2, 2015 episode of RAW, coming to the aid of Paige, who was getting beat down by The Bella Twins. This would lead to AJ Lee teaming with Paige to face The Bella Twins this past Sunday night at WrestleMania 31 with AJ & Paige getting the victory. The next night on RAW, AJ would team with Paige and Naomi to face The Bella Twins and Natalya in a 6-Diva Tag Match with Naomi pinning Divas Champion Nikki Bella to win the match for her team. This match would end up being AJ Lee’s final match in WWE with neither AJ Lee or Paige making an appearance on SmackDown.
Given how little time AJ Lee actually spent in the ring at WrestleMania and that she was not even involved in the decision in the 6-Diva Tag Match on RAW, AJ’s abrupt retirement appears to be injury-related and, with a history of neck issues, it’s very likely that AJ may have been the latest WWE competitor to hang up the boots before their time (Edge was plagued with neck injuries throughout his career, forcing his abrupt retirement in 2011). WWE’s booking of AJ Lee this week would also suggest that WWE was aware of AJ’s retirement before the official announcement was made.
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