By Rafael Bandayrel
This week’s episode of WWE Raw kicked off with a shocking announcement as the company’s top champion Roman Reigns opened up about his real-life battle with leukemia.
Reigns, whose real name is Joe Anoa’i, broke character and apologized to the stunned fans in attendance for not fulfilling his role as a “workhorse” like his character promised. Reigns added that he’s immediately relinquishing his Universal Championship as he would have to take some time off to recover from the illness.
“My name is Joe and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years,” Reigns revealed. “And unfortunately it’s back.”
“Because the leukemia is back, I can’t fulfill my role. I can’t be that fighting champion and I’m going to have to relinquish the universal championship.”
The Samoan powerhouse said he was diagnosed in 2008 at age 22. And although he quickly went into remission, he has been combating the disease since.
“I’m not going to lie, I’ll take every prayer you can send my way but I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not looking for you to feel bad for me because I have faith,” said the 33-year-old.
Reigns was one of the most polarizing characters in professional wrestling. Fans around the world shower him with an equal mix of cheers and boos each time he makes an appearance. But today, a united Providence, Rhode Island crowd rallied behind Reigns. Chants of “Thank you, Roman!” and “Cancer sucks!” echoed through the Dunkin Donuts Center.
[email protected] has to relinquish the Universal Championship due to a battle with leukemia. #Raw pic.twitter.com/EhomllNwjK — WWE (@WWE) October 23, 2018
Reigns, who headlined the last four WrestleMania main events, stressed that his wrestling career is not yet over.
“Sometimes life throws you a curveball and the best thing for me to do is to go home and focus on my health,” Reigns said. “But I want to make one thing clear: By no means is this a retirement speech because after I’m done whupping leukemia’s ass, I’m coming back home. And when I do, it’s not going to be about titles and being on top, it’s about a purpose.”
“I’m coming back because I want to show you all at home and my family and my children and my wife that when life throws a curveball at me, I will choke up and I will swing for the fences every single time. I will beat this and I will be back so you will see me very, very soon.”
Meanwhile, the WWE said in a statement that Reigns took “his battle with leukemia public” to be able to raise awareness and funds for research to advance cures for the disease.