Thanks to her recent pairing with Dolph Ziggler, Diva A.J. Lee enters the year 2013 poised to make even more of an impact in WWE than she did in 2012.
The message on TV is clear: After spending months as a plucky underdog babyface who just wanted to be loved, A.J. has undergone a drastic character change.
No longer concerned with what the fans think, she's now dedicated to helping her career—and the career of her new boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler—through whatever means necessary.
She also wants to derail the world championship hopes of her former love interest John Cena, feeling he mistreated her during their time together and broke her heart. Well, you know what they say about a woman scorned...
As her recent interviews illustrate, A.J. in the role of “evil heel girlfriend” is clearly the best direction for her to go in. She can play the spoiled bratty valet better than anyone, and the fans are lapping up the opportunity to boo her vociferously.
After her muddled character direction in 2012, it's also a relief that WWE seem to have finally settled on an established role for the former WSU star.
Oh, sure. In her storylines with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Cena, A.J. got tons of airtime over the past 12 months (far more than any other woman on the roster, in fact). But WWE didn't appear to know what to do with her, and the result was one of the most complicated and difficult-to-figure-out female characters in wrestling history.
Sometimes, they seemed to be booking her like a modern-day Miss Elizabeth, playing up her girl-next-door qualities.
Her rags-to-riches backstory was also emphasized on television, with the company clearly trying to position her as a similarly sympathetic character.
Then sometimes, they would write her as unstable, lovesick and completely out of control, a la stalker Mickie James circa 2006. This was about as far away from kind, gentle Miss Elizabeth in her early '90s stint as you could get.
And this isn't even factoring in her wacky three-month stint as Raw General Manager in which the company, for some unknown reason, attempted to make her a tough-as-nails professional business woman (she still skipped around a lot, though).
Even more puzzlingly, she often switched from heel to face on a nearly weekly basis.
At times, she would help out the good guys, and then she would be making life miserable for ex-friend Kaitlyn for no reason at all. Not to mention all those times she would irrationally lose it with anyone who dared used the word “crazy” around her.
Frankly, this erratically booked role was a borderline-disaster for her—and Raw as well. It was a huge relief all around when she quit her position in October, citing pressure from the Board of Directors.
So WWE clearly wanted A.J. to succeed, hence her astronomical amount of screen-time, but they didn't seem to know how to go about it. And the direct result was an overexposed female character that swung wildly from one different character to another and dragged the quality of the whole programme down.
Of course, it would be very unfair to place the blame on A.J. for Raw's struggling ratings (a tiresome three-hour format and a dull world championship scene are likely the real reasons). But while the company wants her to be someone with mass appeal and has likely featured her so heavily to aid her cause—she was even given a very flattering write-up recently for the New York Daily News—it simply hasn't happened.
Sure, during 2012, she got a fair amount of cheers and people reacted to her like a star, but she was hardly Lita circa 2000. Nor has she had anything close to the mainstream success Sable or Sunny did during the '90s. Something about her as a face, or tweener, just didn't seem to click.
Thankfully, WWE appear to have rectified the problem with her new heel persona.
Oh, sure, she still takes up way too much of the show—Ziggler and newcomer Big E. Langston need the chance to develop on their own—but at least she seems to have found the right role for herself. Indeed, even as a face, her bratty, manipulative character always had strong heel qualities. The fans were probably itching to boo her anyway.
In 2012, it was easy to resent the ubiquitous nature of A.J. She really was all over Raw and SmackDown and dominated several important storylines, often overshadowing the wrestlers and the company’s title belts. But now, with her heat-garnering new heel character, she is, at last, justifying all the attention. Let's hope it can last.