Professional wrestling fans who tuned in to Monday Night Raw were stunned to learn that one of the brand’s biggest stars has cancer.
WWE champion Roman Reigns revealed at the opening of Monday night’s show that he was diagnosed with leukemia 11 years ago and that the cancer has returned, forcing him to give up his Universal title while he seeks treatment.
Stunned audience members looked on as Reigns broke character to share the shocking news.
“My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years. And unfortunately, it’s back,” Reigns, whose real name is Joe Anoa’i, said.
Wrestler Roman Reigns has leukemia
“I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not looking for you to feel bad for me, because I have faith,” the 33-year old wrestler said.
In an emotional confession, Reigns revealed that the cancer went into remission shortly after he was first diagnosed at 22 during the “hardest time” of his life, when he was struggling without a job, a home, or money, and had a baby on the way.
“Football was done with me,” Reigns, who played college football before becoming a wrestler, said. “The team that gave me a chance was the WWE.”
Reigns promised that he wouldn’t let cancer derail his professional career, saying that “by no means is this a retirement speech” and that he would return “very, very soon.”
“Because when I’m done whipping leukemia’s ass once again, I’m coming back home,” he said, before laying down his title belt on stage, walking out to chants of “Thank You Roman” from even wrestling fans who usually jeer the divisive performer and four-time world champion.
Watch Reigns’ emotional speech below:
Receives support from wrestlers, fans
Reigns was met in a tearful embrace at the end of the runway by wrestling partners Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, who comprise the other two-thirds of wrestling stable The Shield. The stable was in the process of re-uniting for the second time in two years when Reigns announced his diagnosis and his resulting hiatus from wrestling.
Backstage, he received a further outpouring of support from wrestler and executive Triple H, wrestler Shawn Michaels, and other performers.
— WWE (@WWE) October 23, 2018
“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,” the WWE said.
Former and current wrestlers showed their support on Twitter.
“My Family And I Are Thinking Of You And Are Keeping You In Our Prayers! We Are Here For You!” tweeted retired wrestling veteran Ric Flair.
Current Raw and Smackdown wrestler John Cena tweeted, “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.”