[ AJ is the best! Heel or face, she’s still an inspiration! ;___; ]
Next to a row of trophies and trading cards in her office, the most popular woman in the WWE keeps a golden nameplate from Pathmark supermarket — a reminder of life before the ring.
Emblazoned with the words, “100 percent employee,” it’s what wrestling superstar AJ Lee wore as a cashier in her native New Jersey.
“I liked being a janitor more than that,” AJ, whose real name is April Mendez, told the Daily News. “You’re on your feet all day. People kind of look right through you.”
Before life as a WWE Diva, scraping for cash was the norm. AJ spent a hard-knock childhood eating at food banks and living in cars and motel rooms across the Garden State.
“I didn’t have the easiest time growing up; it’s no secret,” she said. “We were just poor.”
But she grew up watching wrestling on TV, and told her family at age 12 she wanted a career in the ring. And after working the independent circuit in her late teens, she was signed by the WWE at age 21.
Now with big WWE appearances in Newark and at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the next two weeks, she’s coming home on top.
In her whirlwind career, AJ has run the ring, worked as general manager for “Raw” and won fans over with her steamy, on-screen romance with wrestler John Cena — no easy feat for a self-described comic book geek who hardly fits the voluptuous mold of a typical Diva.
“Selling the package as me was really hard,” said the 25-year-old wrestler. “I’m not the sexy girl. I’m more youthful and innocent, the girl who wears jeans and T-shirts and sneakers.
“But fans have accepted that I’m a tomboy. There’s a different group of people who find that attractive.”
Many of them, she said, are in New York.
“There’s something about the fans in that area,” she said. “They’re more extreme; they’re smarter. Every time we go somewhere in the tristate, there are people who remember me from six years ago. It’s like a homecoming.”