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By Mike Johnson on 2015-04-06 14:37:55

WWE's quiet announcement on Friday that former Divas champion AJ Lee was retiring from the company left a lot of questions in the air:

*Would she remain with the company now that she was retired?

*Did she retire because of CM Punk?

*Did she retire because of WWE's Doctor's lawsuit against CM Punk?

*Did she retire because WWE obviously threw their support behind it?

*Did she retire because, well, they fired her husband on his wedding day and then sued him the same week they brought her back on the road?

*Does this mean she's going to now speak out against the company?

*Is she going to follow her husband into UFC?

*What are the terms of her contract going forward?

*Is there a non-compete and if so, is she going to follow her husband and Alberto el Patron into legal waters over it?

The quick answers to all of this is, "We don't know", with an added side order of "we might never know." Lee is already working on a book based on social media chatter, but that doesn't mean the book is going to be about her WWE career. She could be writing a book about a turtle that wants to fly. We don't know and we don't until there's a book written and sold to a publisher and landing in our hands.

So, there's a lot of questions, but there's one thing that there is no question about - the legacy of AJ Lee.

Born April Jeanette Mendez in Union City, NJ, the future AJ Lee didn't come from privilege. She was from a hard-working Puerto Rican family and from the stories that have been passed around, they spent their time living in different homes, and sometimes homeless in hotels and even their cars at times.  There were no handouts. There were no easy ways out. It was work, work hard and try to do your best - and hope that in time, luck came your way and when it did, pray it was good luck.

If you think Lee's childhood was easy, visit Union City sometime - or if you can't, just google it. It's in the shadow of New York City, the major metropolitan accessible but also a constant reminder that someone else has it better, someone else has already got it all worked out. 

Union City was and is home to noise and over-population and lots and lots of work but NYC, which has all those same things, was where the dreams came to life. It was where Lee, as a chld, broke down meeting her hero, Lita at the old WWF New York restaurant. It was where she sat with her father at Wrestlemania 20 in Madison Square Garden. It was where she wanted to be, although the odds were stacked against her.

Lee didn't have it worked out (and who could at that age?) but she had her dreams.  She found her way into professional wrestling and like a lot of others, worked for little to no money on the independent scene. She was tiny. She wasn't trying to get into the business to become famous for being famous or to pay for fake boobs to look like another girl who might as well pass for a stripper. She wasn't looking to be a Kardashian knockoff or a hobbyist vying to sell photos at the local Elks Lodge. She wanted something more.

Before she ever really even had a chance to become a "Name" on the independents, she paid for a WWE tryout in Florida. She was there a week and at the end, she was picked out of everyone to get a developmental deal. It was a one in a million chance, but she nailed it.

From there came developmental and then the women's season of NXT, which, to call a spade a spade, 95% of the audience ignored. Lee's tomboyish nature was played up but when it all settled, Kaitlyn was the winner. Lee could have very much been shipped back to developmental purgatory but instead ended up remaining on the main roster. Another one in a million shot, but she scored it.

From then on, we know the story and really, she got to do everything she wanted in professional wrestling. Think about all the major milestones for a woman in today's WWE - wedding? Done. Love triangle? Done. Involved in the WWE title picture? Check. Win the Divas championship? Done. Wrestlemania? Done multiple times. General Manager? Done.  Go from rookie to veteran?  Done.  

Really, the only question left for her career was, what was left for her to do?

Think about it.  Lee worked with everyone from Vince McMahon to Kane to Vickie Guerrero to Daniel Bryan to the Bellas to her future husband, CM Punk to Paige to Kaitlyn. When you think about it, Lee overachieved and was involved at a level that only her hero Lita and WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus were involved in when it came to the tapestry of the company...and while she was there, the landscape began to change to where even the Bellas, who were, at one point, glorified models on the arms of the revolving Raw Guest Host, are now seen as legitimate, vastly-improved wrestlers, while talents like Paige seem more like the norm and less like the aberration that Lee was seen as when she came into the company.

Now think about Lee's background, her path into WWE and how she had to overcompensate for not fitting into the myopic viewpoint of what a WWE Diva was supposed to be. Hell, even when she was established and could have taken the easy way by leaping onto the cast of Total Divas and parlaying that E! TV series fame into some additional exposure, she passed, numerous times.

Now, she's leaving and well, AJ Lee's legacy is going to be seen as pretty damn important. She was the bridge between the Divas era where it was about women on a Diva Search with relatively little athletic skill but looking hot to an era where WWE's audience are standing up and demanding that the women not only be given some real TV time but also been treated as legitimate athletes.

The stories of Alexa Bliss, Bayley, Sasha Banks and Charlotte, among others are just starting to be told, but if we are going to call it like it is, they all owe a debt of gratitude to AJ Lee - she broke the walls down, just as Lita and Trish Stratus did a generation before.

AJ Lee is a long way from Union City and today, she's a long way from WWE. She's walked out, relatively healthy, young and with her legacy in place. One in a million chance, not just for pro wrestling, but indeed, for life.

Mike Johnson can be reached at

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