AJ Lee's Retirement Leaves WWE Fans Pondering a Number of What-Ifs

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterApril 6, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

AJ Lee's WWE story came to an end in very sudden fashion, hitting fans like a spinning heel kick to the side of the face.

WWE.com reported over the weekend that AJ "has decided to retire from in-ring competition with WWE." AJ tipped her hat to fans on her way out via Twitter:

AJ @TheAJMendez

Break the rules. Be a fighter. Any dream is possible if you are brave enough to do it YOUR way. Thank you all. http://t.co/qu7bBOMFdu

Her fans sit stunned, watching the division's best mic worker and biggest star of the past few years choose to unlace her wrestling boots for good.

AJ's departure generates a host of questions. Fans are left to wonder what lies in her future, what brought this move on and whether the retirement will even stick.

Beyond those thoughts, there is a feeling that AJ's career is incomplete.

There are so many battles she could have been a part of, so many stories she could have starred in. Her in-ring days now over, WWE has no chance to redo the opportunities it flubbed with her. It can no longer create any number of compelling showdowns with future stars or names from the past.

The narrative of her career is suddenly dotted with what-ifs.

What if WWE Had Made Better Use of Her Rivalry with Paige?

Paige vs. AJ was a tepid, neglected feud but could have been this generation's Lita vs. Trish Stratus.

Rather than concoct an actual wrestling story, WWE decided to have Paige and AJ be "frenemies." The core of their battles became the question of whether they were friends or not. WWE threw in some sexual innuendo, as Paige seemed to be hinting at having feelings for AJ, but there was no real bad blood. 

AJ Lee and Paige before their match at SummerSlam.
AJ Lee and Paige before their match at SummerSlam.Credit: WWE.com

They traded the Divas Championship a few times with little spark throughout the whole process.

If WWE had treated this pairing with more urgency, Paige and AJ could have been at each other's throats in the center of a compelling drama. As good as AJ vs. Kaitlyn was with the help of a developed story, one has to imagine that Paige vs. AJ could have been spectacular.

By the time the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view came around, there should have been enough animosity to justify booking the first women's Hell in a Cell match. It's a bout that both women pulled for. 

On the subject of stepping in that steel cage with Paige, AJ told Matt Fowler in an interview with IGN, "We were very vocal about wishing that was possible. And trying to make that happen. We really were."

WWE chose to avoid going down that path, and now there is no chance to rekindle that feud and drum up the enmity to the point that a collision in the cage would make sense. 

AJ and Paige won't make that kind of history.

What if AJ Had Fought Stephanie McMahon Instead of Brie Bella?

While it exceeded expectations, Stephanie vs. Brie would have been far better had it featured AJ instead.

Brie has certainly improved as a ring worker, but she's limited compared to the division's best, and her mic skills are miles away from what AJ produced throughout her career.

Watching Brie battle her boss on the mic was painful at times. She was Keanu Reeves trying to hang in a scene with Daniel Day Lewis.

After Payback in 2013, fans saw a glimpse of what the feud would have looked like had AJ taken Brie's spot.

The tension between the women was enthralling. These were two excellent trash-talkers with the kind of chemistry WWE hopes for each times it throws two enemies together.

Nothing ever came of that, and now nothing will.

The rebel-against-authority story had great potential. It was even one of the "fantasy matchups" WWE featured on its YouTube page:

AJ could have done far more than Brie did once that story led to them to the ring. That now becomes one of WWE's biggest missed opportunities, a cannon left unfired.   

What if AJ Was Around to Groom the Next Wave of Talent?

WWE Creative suddenly has a lot less to work with in the coming months. As NXT's top Divas continued to prove themselves worthy of promotion, it was easy to start envisioning them tangling with AJ.

Sasha Banks vs. AJ, Charlotte vs. AJ and Bayley vs. AJ were all possible contests teeming with potential. 

The last one did happen, but it was on NXT before it began to air on the WWE Network. So it's a one-off that few folks saw, rather than a marquee matchup at the tail end of a dramatic story.

When AJ accepted her Slammy Award for Diva of the Year in 2014, she gave kudos to Banks, Charlotte and others. She said, "Any of those girls can be next in line for the throne, but I'm not done being queen."

There was a ready-made story there in which the longest-reigning Divas champ ever would fend off a crop of emerging talent. There was a strong supply of passing-of-the-torch moments to be had, and the excellence that would have occurred could have been the impetus for the Divas division to truly undergo a renaissance.

Those bouts aren't happening.

Banks vs. Nikki Bella doesn't have nearly the same appeal. Bayley vs. Naomi would be good, but the former Funkadactyl can't touch AJ in terms of storytelling in the ring or on the mic. Besides, Bayley and AJ are real-life friends, which could have been the starting point for their feud, much like it was for Kaitlyn and AJ.

Bayley @itsBayleyWWE

Guys! Finally. We make a lovely couple......of best friends. ☺️ @WWEAJLee http://t.co/XKPCXYxjKd

A host of potentially classic feuds are now forced to remain fantasy matchups that could have been. 

What if WWE Had Allowed AJ to Be More of a WrestleMania Attraction?

AJ's WrestleMania resume doesn't reflect that she was a trailblazer and one of the top female performers of her generation. WWE simply never took advantage of her skills at its biggest event.

At WrestleMania 28, she was the girl who distracted Daniel Bryan with a kiss. The next year, she donned a torn Dolph Ziggler shirt and accompanied him and Big E to the ring. A mess of a match followed, as WWE tried to cram the entire division into a single bout.

The Divas prepare for the title match at WrestleMania 30.
The Divas prepare for the title match at WrestleMania 30.Credit: WWE.com

This year, AJ teamed with Paige against The Bella Twins. All the women involved did well, but this was no proper showcase of AJ's capability, nor of the division as a whole.

She ends her run with just two WrestleMania bouts, not one of them the kind of big match that this grand stage demands.

AJ vs. Stephanie would have been tremendous. Had the rivalry been better scripted, a Paige vs. AJ feud-ending collision would have been WrestleMania-worthy. WWE also never ran with a feud between Tamina Snuka and AJ.

Future matches are off the table as well.

If Ronda Rousey ends up working WrestleMania 32 in some capacity, it won't be against the woman who could have torn her to bits on the mic. If WWE ever convinces Trish Stratus or Lita to come back, it won't be for a showdown with AJ.

Those are among the possibilities that won't come to fruition now that AJ is done with WWE. Those are the scenarios that her fanbase will discuss, wondering what a few extra years or less neglect from WWE could have brought.