Pro wrestler Roman Reigns announced to a stunned audience at Monday Night Raw that he was relinquishing his WWE Universal Championship title to focus on fighting leukemia
The wrestler born Leati Joseph Anoa’i stepped into the ring with his belt in hand and iterated his promise to fans that he would be their “fighting champion” but he’s no longer able to do that.
“The reality is, my real name is Joe and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years,” Reigns said. “And unfortunately, it’s back. And because the leukemia is back, I cannot fulfill my role—I can’t be that fighting champion—and I’m going to have to relinquish the Universal Championship.”
— WWE (@WWE) October 23, 2018
He revealed that he was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 22 and quickly went into remission. He added that while his football career was over, the WWE gave him a chance and made his dreams come true. It didn’t matter if fans cheered or booed him, just that they reacted to him.
And while Reigns is stepping away to focus on his own health, he iterated that he fully intended to return once he’s able to fight again.
“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,” Reigns said. “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.”
He was joined by fellow pro wrestlers Dean Ambrose and Henry Rollins, who embraced him and placed their fists together in solidarity.
— WWE (@WWE) October 23, 2018
After making the announcement, the WWE confirmed in a statement that Reigns was stepping away from the WWE to fight leukemia.
“Tonight on Monday Night Raw, Roman Reigns (a.k.a. Joe Anoa’i) announced that he is relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship and taking a leave of absence from WWE as he once again fights leukemia, which had been in remission since late 2008,” it read. “Reigns is taking his battle with leukemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research in order to advance cures for the disease.”
Reigns’ announcement stunned the wrestling world, which praised Reigns and shared their support on social media.
‘Courage – strength in the face of pain or grief.’ You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment. We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support. #ThankYouRoman #NeverGiveUp
— John Cena (@JohnCena) October 23, 2018
Roman Reigns exemplifies everything I believe a true leader should be.
Proud to have shared a locker room with him, and I’ll be proud to share it with him again after he wins this battle.#ThankYouRoman
— Chad Gable (@WWEGable) October 23, 2018
.@WWERomanReigns you are the definition of what it means to be a leader and a champion and one of the toughest lads on the planet. We are all behind you and sending love. You will beat this. #ThankYouRoman
— Rebecca Quin (@BeckyLynchWWE) October 23, 2018
— Renee Young (@ReneeYoungWWE) October 23, 2018
✊🏻 THANK YOU ROMAN ✊🏻
All Respect and Prayers 🙏🏻
The BIG DOG will be Back https://t.co/ZyXfmp24rq
— Otis Dozovic (@WWEDozovic) October 23, 2018
— Hurricane Helms (@ShaneHelmsCom) October 23, 2018
About to board my flight to Newark and hearing news about my #GoodBrother and one of the hardest working, strongest brothers I know @WWERomanReigns , got a pit in my stomach.
My family throwing so many prayers at you..
Love you bro.
— Karl Anderson (@KarlAndersonWWE) October 23, 2018
You can watch Reigns’ full speech here.