“My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukaemia for 11 years. And unfortunately it’s back.”
With that, WWE star and Tampa-area resident Roman Reigns opened Monday night’s telecast of Raw to announce his diagnosis and decision to relinquish his Universal title.
Reigns, 33, whose real name is Joe Anoa’i, told the stunned crowd he was first diagnosed at age 22 — at a time when he said he didn’t have a job, money, home and had a baby on the way — but it quickly went into remission. But he recently learned the leukaemia had returned, prompting him to seek treatment and put his career on hold.
“I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not looking for you to feel bad for me, because I have faith,” Reigns said.
Anoa’i has appeared in the last four main events at WrestleMania, vowed to return when healthy, saying “by no means is this a retirement speech,” drawing loud cheers.
Then, breaking a bit into character, Anoa’i made an impassioned promise that drew even more reaction.
“Because when I’m done whipping leukaemia’s a$$ once again,” he said, “I’m coming back home.”
Added the WWE in a statement: “Reigns is taking his battle with leukaemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research in order to advance cures for the disease.”
At that, Anoa’i laid the title on the mat and walked out to thunderous applause, greeted at the end of the runway to tears and warm embraces by Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, his wrestling partners in The Shield.
He was then greeted backstage by WWE executive — and wrestler — Triple H, and other performers who embraced him and offered their support.
That support extended to Twitter, as both current and former wrestlers expressed their gratitude and encouragement. – Tampa Bay Times/Tribune News Service