By Scott Piercehttp://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/aj ... m-11877701
If you're a true blood-and-sinew kind of fighting fan, chances are you abandoned the WWE for UFC long ago. One of them is real, after all. But still: Millions of viewers in 145 countries and 30 different languages continue to tune in every week to watch men in shiny loin clothes throw each other around for a while. And it is, to be sure, a man's world, except for one WWE Diva — as female fighters are affectionately called — who bosses them all around. Her name is AJ Lee and she is the General Manager of WWE’s Monday Night Raw and you would not mistake her for someone from the Amazon. Over the past year, she's positioned herself firmly in the "geek-goddess" realm but still managed to reinforce WWE's place in the entertainment landscape by calling it out for what it is: silly fun. The Culture Blog caught up with Lee at this weekend's SummerSlam, where she made her ex-boyfriends Daniel Bryan and Kane face off — and where she defended the future of her uh, sport.ESQUIRE.COM:
So, during the height of the economic collapse, you did the most logical thing by dropping out of school to become a professional wrestler.AJ LEE:
I actually went to NYU for six months, had some family issues that kind of set me back, and I couldn't afford to go anymore. That was the theme going on in my whole life, you know: money stopping me from whatever I wanted to do. My dream my entire life was to be a wrestler, so that was my moment where I was like, Okay, let's do it now. I went to wrestling school and found a full-time job to support it.ESQ:
For the Speedos.AJL:
A lot of Speedos! You know, I was really close with my brother. I was a tomboy and kind of into anything he was into. By default, I started watching wrestling and fell in love with it. There's just something about being a superhero, being a kickass girl, and having that strength. It was something I didn't have in real life and I wanted to harness that. At 12-years-old, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I told people, but no one believed me. It never left my head. It was really the only thing I wanted.ESQ:
WWE's storylines and flying bodies have always been a little... over the top. But you actually have to train to be that crazy, right?AJL:
A lot of people get scouted and get brought in, but I paid to try out. I did this camp that 80 people go to, and I paid a lot of money. I just scraped together for a year, saved, and got to try out there. I had been wrestling for two and a half years — I was a train wreck. I just looked terrible. I didn't know what I was doing, but they can just kind of see the potential in you.ESQ:
FCW, that Florida Championship Wrestling development training, must have been a shock to the system.AJL:
I had never lifted a weight in my life. I was thin and didn't realize how small I was — I was like 96 pounds when I got signed. You don't want to be 96 pounds. It's not attractive. I didn't know how to do my hair and makeup. I was such a tomboy. The fact that they can see through that and say, We're going to teach you — that helped me learn. I learned how to work out. I gained 10 pounds of muscle within a year.
ESQ: You know, a lot of people still think of WWE Divas as being these giants like Chyna. What happened to her? Even today, you have people like this Kelly Kelly, who's just like a little Swarovski crystal. But you're more like a Comic-Con Diva.AJL:
The funny thing is that other people can see certain strengths as flaws. I heard a million times to clean up, but not be too much of a tomboy. I heard, This is what you have to convert to, this is the formula. I heard, People want to hang out with you but it might not get you where you need to go — they won't put your poster on the wall. And you know, it's wrong. There was something in me where I knew that people wanted someone that they could relate to. I was able to show that I was goofy and dorky, and right away, people embraced that. The company noticed and they were like, Let's just go with that.ESQ:
And it made you the general manager of Raw. I'm not even actually sure what that title means.AJL:
I'm the boss! I run our flagship program, and it's a huge weight to carry. It's hilarious that the tiniest person has the most power. It came completely out of left field. I had no idea that they were looking for a general manager for a really long time. They felt that it would be really surprising and unpredictable. So, you know, I book matches. I'm the boss of all the guys. It's fun because a lot of them have wronged me.
ESQ: Do you ever fear that UFC is encroaching upon your audience who want something that's "real?"AJL:
Even if you watch UFC, people like the bigger characters and the people you can get behind. What's important for our company is what's important for us as individuals. You get emotionally involved. It's not just two guys going out there and beating each other up.