It was brought to my attention that former WWE Diva AJ Lee (AJ Mendez Brooks) acknowledged me in her recently released autobiography as the creator of her on-screen pairing with Daniel Bryan.
I consider the AJ-Bryan storyline pitch to be one of my two most impactful contributions during my three-year stint (2011-2014) on the WWE creative team (the other being the Mark Henry faux retirement angle).
Of course, not all of my great ideas (well, they were great in my mind) got green-lighted by the powers that be. The following are five storylines I pitched that were rejected:
1. Dean Ambrose And AJ Lee Hook Up In A Mental Institution (2012)
The rocky relationship between AJ and Bryan culminated with AJ leaving him at the altar after she discovered he was planning on having her committed to a mental institution after the wedding.
Meanwhile, the creative team was looking for a Plan B to bring Ambrose from developmental to the main roster. Plan A -- a "worked-shoot" angle with Ambrose and Mick Foley engaging in a war of words on social media -- was scrapped after Foley legitimately took issue with something Ambrose said about him.
My idea was for Bryan's plan to have AJ committed actually succeed. We'd take her off TV for a little while before bringing her back in dramatic fashion. She would return with her new boyfriend (Ambrose), whom she had met while both were patients in the institution.
Ambrose and AJ would wreak havoc, becoming WWE's version of Bonnie and Clyde (or Mickey and Mallory, to use a less-dated analogy).
Vince McMahon had a different vision. The WWE chairman and CEO loved the AJ character and decided to make her the new "Raw" general manager after she called off the wedding to Bryan. AJ as GM didn't get over, and her run as an authority figure lasted just three months.
2. Faction Of Former Indy Stars Invades WWE (2012)
As the historic 1,000th episode of "Raw" was approaching, each member of the creative team was asked to come up with a major storyline that would begin on that show. My pitch was to create an edgy, new heel faction composed of top developmental prospects Ambrose (I was determined to get him on the main roster in a meaningful way one way or another), Seth Rollins and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero).
It was my spin on The Nexus, a heel stable of developmental wrestlers who invaded WWE in 2010. After a hot start, The Nexus fell victim to questionable booking and lasted just more than a year before being disbanded.
My idea began with former ECW star Tommy Dreamer being named the head of WWE's scouting department. As someone who paid his dues on the independent scene and didn't have the traditional WWE look, Dreamer's goal was to give guys with similar qualities an opportunity.
On "Raw 1,000," Dreamer would formally announce Ambrose, Rollins and Ohno were now part of the WWE roster. They would go on to compete that night in a six-man tag match against three lower-card heels and go over in impressive fashion.
After the match, Ambrose, Rollins and Ohno would call Dreamer into the ring, seemingly to thank him for what he's done for them. Instead, they turn on him and deliver a brutal, three-on-one beat-down to the lovable veteran.
On the following week's show, they explain that they just used Dreamer to get their foot in the door in WWE. They say Dreamer wanted them to work their way up the card and do things the right way, but they're not going to play by his rules. They reveal that their leader is someone with a background like theirs who knows success is achieved by any means necessary: Bryan (who was a heel at that time).
As it turned out, the big angle we went with on "Raw 1,000" was CM Punk turning heel on The Rock. Several months later it was decided Punk, who was WWE champion at the time, would get three guys from developmental to become his henchmen and help him retain the title. I suggested my trio of Ambrose, Rollins and Ohno to Triple H in a booking meeting.
Triple H said he already had Ambrose and Rollins in mind, but instead of Ohno, he wanted Roman Reigns, and thus The Shield was born.
3. Big Show Assaults Alberto Del Rio's Father (2013)
Del Rio had just turned babyface and won the World Heavyweight Championship from Big Show, and we were trying to come up with an angle that would escalate their feud and generate heat for Big Show and sympathy for Del Rio.
I suggested we bring in Del Rio's father, Dos Caras, who had a legendary career in Mexico as a masked luchador, for an appearance on WWE TV that culminated with Big Show attacking the sexagenarian, removing his mask and proceeding to carry it around like a trophy in the ensuing weeks. As is the tradition for masked pro wrestlers in Mexico, Dos Caras never appeared in public unmasked, and forcibly removing a luchador's mask was the ultimate sign of disrespect.
Vince McMahon shot down the pitch for two reasons: He said the American audience wouldn't grasp how sacred the mask is to Mexican wrestlers, and he also believed a senior citizen in street clothes and a mask would look ridiculous.
I thought McMahon was wrong on both counts. The significance of masks in Mexican pro wrestling had been played up in WWE before in angles involving Rey Mysterio, and it would be easy enough have commentators explain why Big Show's actions were so heinous. As for the notion that Dos Caras would look ridiculous, perhaps he would to non-wrestling fans, but I didn't think the WWE audience would feel that way.
After all, no one seemed taken aback when Dos Caras' brother, Mil Mascaras, delivered his WWE Hall of Fame induction speech in 2012 wearing his mask and a tuxedo.
4. The Romance Of Cody Rhodes And Kaitlyn (2013)
Rhodes had started sporting a cheesy, thin moustache that immediately caught the attention of the fans, who chanted "Cody's moustache" during his matches. WWE Diva Kaitlyn had tweeted several times in the past that she had a thing for guys with moustaches. This one was a no-brainer -- or so I thought.
At the time, Rhodes and Damien Sandow were paired together as best friends and tag-team partners. I thought it would be compelling if moustache-lover Kaitlyn, a babyface, suddenly found Rhodes irresistible despite the fact that he was a heel.
Rhodes and Kaitlyn would begin dating, causing Sandow to resent her for putting a strain on his bromance and for her trying to change Rhodes by encouraging him to abandon his villainous ways. Having to choose between a love interest and a close friend is something a lot of people could identify with.
I figured we could take the storyline in several different directions. The obvious route would be for a jealous Sandow to turn on Rhodes. Eventually, Sandow would get together with a rival of Kaitlyn's, leading to a series of mixed tag matches.
Another way to go would be for Kaitlyn to turn heel and hook up with Sandow, saying Sandow's impressive beard put Rhodes' moustache to shame.
My initial pitch of Kaitlyn being attracted to Rhodes actually did make it onto TV, but I could tell McMahon wasn't all that interested in it. When Brie and Nikki Bella returned to WWE, the storyline was abruptly dropped after a couple weeks because McMahon decided to align the Bella twins with Rhodes and Sandow.
"What about the budding romance between Rhodes and Kaitlyn?" I asked McMahon during a booking meeting.
McMahon, who had made it clear on several occasions he did not find Kaitlyn's muscular physique all that attractive, replied (and I'm paraphrasing): "If one of the Bellas showed interest in Cody, why would he ever look at Kaitlyn again?"
Undeterred, I said, "Because plenty of men in our audience think Kaitlyn is hot whether you think so or not."
Actually, I didn't say that. I believe my response was, "Fair enough, sir."
5. Cody And Brandi Rhodes As The New Goldust And Marlena (2014)
With my story ine of Kaitlyn coming between best friends Rhodes and Sandow having died a premature death, I later pitched another variation of Rhodes being caught between his girl and someone close to him. This time, the conflict involved Rhodes' real-life wife, Brandi (who was then known as WWE ring announcer Eden Stiles), and his brother, Goldust.
It already had been decided by McMahon that Rhodes was going to transform into a new character known as Stardust, who would wear face paint and ring attire similar to Goldust's. The question was how we were going to get there.
Rhodes and Goldust were a babyface tag team at the time, and I suggested we play off the fact the veteran Goldust was getting a bigger reaction from the crowd than his younger brother. Feeling that Goldust is hogging the spotlight, Rhodes turns on him and becomes Stardust.
It's revealed Brandi was the one who planted the seed in her husband's mind that his brother was using him to stay relevant and keep him from becoming the star of the team. Brandi's plan is for Stardust to become bigger than Goldust ever was, and she adopts a look and mannerisms that are reminiscent of Goldust's former wife/valet, Marlena.
McMahon instead chose to have Rhodes and Goldust go on a losing streak, which led to Rhodes saying his brother deserved a better partner than him. Rhodes conducted a search for a new partner for Goldust before ultimately having an epiphany that the man for the job was him as Stardust.
Stardust eventually turned on Goldust, but Brandi wasn't involved, and McMahon pulled the plug on the feud after just one pay-per-view match.