Roman Reigns leukaemia announcement on WWE Raw shocks fans as star vacates Universal championship
- Leati Joseph Anoa’i, who performs in WWE as Roman Reigns, is taking a leave of absence while he battles the disease
- The 33-year-old says ‘this is not a retirement speech’, as WWE announces Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman will fight for vacant belt
Professional wrestler Leati Joseph Anoa’i, who is known to fans as WWE’s Universal champion Roman Reigns, has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
The 33-year-old revealed his battle with the disease – a cancer of the blood cells – at the start of this week’s Monday Night Raw live television programme at the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre in Providence, Rhode Island, and announced he is vacating his title.
“I feel like I owe everyone an apology. For months, maybe even a whole year, I’ve come out here as Roman Reigns and said I’d come out here every week, that I’d be a fighting champion, that I was going to be consistent, that I was going to be a workhorse – but that’s all lies,” Anoa’i, a four-time world champion in WWE, told the crowd.
“It’s a lie because the reality is, my real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukaemia for 11 years. And, unfortunately, it’s back.
“And because the leukaemia is back, I cannot fulfil my role – I can’t be that fighting champion – and I’m going to have to relinquish the Universal championship.”
A former college football player for Georgia Tech, Anoa’i signed with WWE in 2010 after retiring from American football in 2008 following failed attempts to make the rosters for the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
He debuted in 2012 in WWE’s developmental NXT brand as Reigns, and quickly became one of the company’s biggest stars as part of the three-man group “The Shield”.
“I’m not gonna 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,” Anoa’i said
“When I was 22 years old I was diagnosed with this and very quickly I was able to put it in remission. But I’m not gonna lie, that was the hardest time of my life.
“I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a home. And I had a baby on the way. And football was done with me. But you wanna know who gave me a chance? The team that gave me a chance was the WWE.
“And when I finally made it to the main roster, I was on the road and they put me in front of you, the WWE Universe, and to be honest you all have made my dreams come true.
“And it didn’t matter if you cheered me, it didn’t matter if you booed me, you’ve always reacted to me and that is the most important thing and for that I have to say thank you so much.”
It was his Shield teammates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose – the three of whom are close friends in real life – that Anoa’i embraced at the top of the entrance ramp on Monday after laying his Universal championship down on the canvas in the middle of the ring.
“You all know the deal and how life is. Life’s not always fair, it’s not all peaches and cream. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball,” Anoa’i said. “And right now, the best thing for me is to go home, focus on my family and my health.
“I want to make one thing clear: by no means is this a retirement speech. Because after I’m done whipping leukaemia’s a** once again, 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 all of you, the whole world, my family, my friends, my children and my wife, that when life throws a curveball at me, I am the type of man that will stand in that batter’s box, I will crowd the plate, I will choke up and I will swing for the fences every single time.
“Because I will beat this, and I will be back and you will see me very, very soon. Once again thank you so much, god bless you and I love you. Believe that.”
Anoa’i last performed on last week’s edition of Raw on October 15, though it is uncertain when he received his diagnosis.
A WWE statement released after Anoa’i’s announcement said “Reigns is taking his battle with leukaemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research to advance cures for the disease”.
Reigns was set to headline WWE’s upcoming “Crown Jewel” show in Saudi Arabia on November 2 in a three-way match against Braun Strowman and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
Strowman and Lesnar will now face each other in a singles match with the vacant Universal championship on the line, WWE announced.
“We come out here every Monday night to entertain. That’s what we all do,” WWE commentator Michael Cole told the television audience after Reigns’ announcement.
“We live in this alternate reality sometimes and I think we all forget that we’re real people. And the superstars in the locker room are real people and reality came up here and bit us tonight.
“And all I want to say is prayers are with you, brother, go get ‘em.”