For the longest time in WWE, the term “women’s match” was code for bathroom break. It was a bit of a joke we, “the WWE Universe” had for the longest time… Except after reading this book, I’m not entirely sure we were the only ones making that joke. Or that it even was a joke in the first place.
Women’s wrestling IN GENERAL has had to make a lot of progress. Especially after The Attitude Era basically reduced it to glorified cat fighting and bikini contests. True, there were women like Lita and Molly Holly, who busted their asses and put on some pretty good matches… But there were also people like Candis Michelle: a woman whose resume prior to WWE included “that video on PornHub where in I let a guy lick my feet for ten straight minutes.”
By the way, that’s actually a thing. If you have to ask how I know that… Let’s just say that’s going to do wonders for the foot fetish rumors.
Eventually, the WWE went PG. Whether it was damage control following the horrible murder suicide of the Benoit family, or the fact Linda McMahon was on the verge of running one of the most laughably doomed senate campaigns in history at the time, who can say. All I know is suddenly, matches were stopped the moment a wrestler started bleeding, DX started hanging out with a fucking leprechaun, and the top guy in the company was a whigger who dressed like a fucking seven-year-old with the most annoying entrance music since The Right to Censore. Except at least with The Right to Censore, you could argue it was on purpose because they were the bad guys. That little trumpet sample still haunts my nightmares. All you people bitching about Roman Reigns being the handpicked guy… I mean yeah, it sucks cronyism is once again in full effect, but compared to John fucking Cena, I’ll at least tolerate Roman Reigns. At least he looks the part.
Oh, and also as a result of the PG era, women’s wrestling got REALLY AWKWARD. They hired a bunch of models to basically look sexy for the camera… Except with a PG rating, you really can’t be all that sexy. The one time they tried a swimsuit competition in the PG era… Well, let’s just say I hope you’re in to legs, because that’s about as much skin as you ended up getting.
By this point, the only women who were worth a damn were Natalia Neidhart and Beth Phoenix. As much as I want to include Layla in that mix, I’m seriously one of those people who believes Team LayCool were TOO good at the heel role. I could write a whole article on that alone, but I’m already having a hard time keeping my head in the game.
This situation was all in large part a result of The WWE Diva Search: a competition that started in 2004, continued into 2005 and I think 2006, and resulted in other models who couldn’t even SPELL wrestle, much less ACTUALLY WRESTLE, getting employed with the company. In time, you saw fewer wrestlers like Molly Holly and Victoria, and more “divas” like Kelly Kelly and the fucking Bella Twins: women who were hired for their looks… And not much else. No joke, Kelly Kelly once talked about how “Rafiki” inspired her to take up the stinkface as one of her signature moves. For those out of the loop, she meant Rikishi: a four-hundred pound samoan whose ultimate claims to fame are portraying a headhunter, a sultan, and spending the last years of his active WWE career as a fat guy in a sumo thong that rubbed his butt in everybody’s face. Look, I’ve forgotten about my share of professional wrestlers in my day (I didn’t even know Cizzarnie was a thing until I saw an article about him on Wrestlecrap.com), but despite being basically being a ginormous butt joke for the remainder of The Attitude Era, Rikishi was pretty well known. How the fuck do you botch that!?
Enter AJ Mendez-Brooks: better known to “The WWE Universe” as AJ Lee.
AJ Lee, from what I remember of her, was a real “blink and you’ll miss it” sort of wrestler. She wasn’t in WWE especially long, and I think she only ever had one or two divas championship reigns.
Ugh, the divas championship. Can I just get this out of my system? I know, I know, I’m just all over the place in this review. Stream of consciousness is a bitch. Also, I’ve had this in the proverbial shotgun for years now, and what other chance will I have to unload this shot?
The divas championship was fucking stupid. No, seriously, it had to be the lamest title belt WWE had ever created. When your division’s championship is so lame and tacky that Whigger McGee’s retarded little spinner belt has more credibility, yall done fucked up A-A-RON. Hell, at least John Cena was the only one who ever carried around the spinner belt. And maybe Rob Van Dam for a while, but I digress. Every woman on the roster had to deal with the fact this joke of a title the fans affectionately referred to as “the butterfly belt” represented their entire division, and they had to put up with it for years! And considering the previously mentioned Natalya and Beth were the only wrestlers worth a damn in the division at the time, it just seems like icing on the cake.
Okay, I’m done. I’ll try to get back to the book review. Key word is TRY.
I’ll own up to have only seen AJ Lee on the main roster. It didn’t really occur to me that I could look up Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) on YouTube… Nor did it interest me, really. I also own up to not watching the NXT season she appeared on after hearing it was going to be between divas. Sue me: the words “diva’s competition” in that era of WWE programming filled me with dread and loathing. What does it say about your program when heel Michael Cole wailing on a gong that he just happened to have near the commentators’ booth for no explainable reason is the most entertaining part of your show? And the only reason I even knew about THAT was because it was a meme for about a week or two.
So yeah, I don’t know a whole lot about AJ Lee’s past. I just know she was one of the EXTREMELY few women on WWE programming who could actually wrestle, she was definitely the SHORTEST woman on WWE programming, and that the smartmarks absolutely loved her. Which you’d think means WWE creative HATED her, considering how they’ve treated audience darlings like Zack Ryder, Daniel Bryan, and currently Becky Lynch… But I actually got the impression there was more indifference than anything else. And not even towards AJ Lee herself. As far as they were concerned, she was another woman trying to enter a division where your only requirements were look pretty, pull off maybe two or three halfway decent looking wrestling moves, and try not to be too shocked when Kelly Kelly ends up rubbing her flat bony ass in your face.
The book seems to focus more on AJ Mendez-Brooks growing up than it does on her wrestling career. Partly because, as I said before, her career was surprisingly short. It was sort of the inverse of Bob Holly’s Hardcore Truth in the sense she accomplished a shit ton in just two or three years. Also… Well, I think it goes without saying, the story of growing up in the Mendez family is a lot more interesting.
I don’t want to get too deep in this, but I know what it’s like living with a parent with… Issues. Granted, I don’t know what it’s like having a psychotic mother checking my period blood to make sure it’s actually period blood and not a broken hymen, but I do know what it’s like having to spend your entire day walking on egg shells, knowing that you’re either going to get the happy joke time family member, or the pissed off at everyone and everything family member who watches your table manners with a sniper scope, just waiting for you to make a mistake so they can just unload on you about how “it’s like you’ve never eaten in front of real fucking people before!”.
Also, unlike the Mendez family, I was an only child in a family that, while far from rich, was definitely financially stable. I’ve definitely never had to go dumpster diving for furnature for an apartment that we’d eventually be getting kicked out of. Although I DID scavenge my current computer desk from a curbside, but that doesn’t even come close.
This is truly an amazing story, if only because it’s so depressing that this is how some people are forced to live. Being so broke that family won’t even take you in, dumpster diving for basic essentials, having a bipolar mom who was gracious enough to pass down her bipolar disorder to you… This is the sort of life I pray I never have to live. And she survived it all.
Whether it be her family life, or her time as a wrestler, AJ Mendez-Brooks’ story was gripping, and engaging. Right up until the last couple of chapters where in I got an EXTREMELY lengthy feminist lecture.
On one hand, UGH! I GET IT! Men suck! Straight white men in particular. Lord knows I don’t get enough of feminist Twitter filling my newsfeed with their bitchy, angry, “stop mansplaining stuff!” tweets that remind me of this. Semi-related note: why did I want a Twitter account again?
On the other hand… There are some stories within the lecture of sorts that creep even ME out. And you should see some of the shit I have in my Audible.com account if you want to talk creepy. The most horrifying anecdote, hands down, is the story of how a hotel manager broke into one of the women’s hotel room at 3:00 in the morning. That is just wrong on SOOO many levels.
I find myself once again asking myself: “Am I really part of a fringe minority of men? A fringe minority who treats women with respect, understands that nobody wants a dick pic, and that nobody likes being patronized?” Trust me, as someone with a vision impairment, I get my share of patronizing bullshit, so maybe I’m more aware of what constitutes patronizing comments? Seriously, what the fuck?
Much like Bob Holly’s Hardcore Truth, Mendez-Brooks peppers in little interludes. Unlike Bob Holly, who mostly decided to talk candidly about certain wrestlers and the business, Mendez-Brooks fills these segments, titled Diary of an Unfit Mind, with therapist homework, messages to a future child, and other amusing little tidbits. The one that made me laugh was when she encouraged her future child not to worry about people googling their mother’s name with the word “ASS SHOT”. I don’t really remember AJ Lee having much in the way of a butt-oriented gimmick. Personally, I’d much rather be the proverbial fly on the wall when Brooke Tessmacher’s kids get old enough and discover people on YouTube have made ENTIRE MONTAGES of their mom stinkfacing random women back when she wrestled for IMPACT.
The book is read by the author, which is always a positive for me. Also, her performance is probably one of the better ones I’ve heard in my time collecting wrestler autobiographies. I’ve mentioned before that as much as I love Jim Ross, it’s very obvious that he was reading from a script. I’ve also mentioned that in Daniel Bryan’s autobiography, he reads like he really wants to get this over and done with. But Mendez-Brooks? Her reading of her book felt genuine. It felt like she actually wanted to be there, and wanted to give the audience a memorable performance. Definitely a plus.
All and all, this book is worth your time. I highly recommend it.