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Thank You, Roman: WWE Universal Champion Reveals Longtime Battle With Leukemia

Wrestling is scripted. Wrestling is fake.

We all know this is very true on almost any different occasion in the world of the WWE. But at the beginning of Monday Night RAW, nothing was scripted, nor fake, about what the Universal Champion Roman Reigns had to say.

Reigns (former All-ACC defensive lineman for Georgia Tech, Joe Anoa’i) strolled down to the ring to begin the show, as a mixed chorus of boos and cheers poured down on him, just like any other Monday night when Reigns appears. Thirty seconds into the promo however, everyone in the building and anyone watching at home knew that this was no normal segment.

“My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years,” said the 33-year-old veteran. “And unfortunately it’s back.”

The wrestling world stopped spinning at that exact moment. This wasn’t a shoot, a swerve, or a storyline. This was real.

Reigns went on talking about how this has affected his life in the past and what it means for the future and then ended the promo by relinquishing his Universal Title, saying that he would leave to go be with his family and receive the treatment that he needs. But this isn’t about championships, pay-per-views, or anything like that.

What yesterday was for the wrestling community was a strong dose of reality to a theatrical sport that seems to hardly venture into that area. It was a reminder that the people that show up on our TVs week in and week out are not just the characters they portray on a show that we evaluate based on how well they can talk on a microphone or do a flip off the top rope.

And to think that the guy has been living through this for 11 years? Without anyone knowing at all the struggles he has faced to get to where he is now? The story is remarkable, and while it seems to be in a valley rather than a mountaintop right now, the story is far from over.

Ultimately, this situation makes me realize the greatness of the former Universal, World Heavyweight, Intercontinental, United States, and Tag Team Champion Reigns. Sure, he has been one of the most controversial characters for the past few years in the WWE, and has been subject to continuous outcries of dissatisfaction over how he has been used. But with the departure of Reigns now in effect, it is clear to see that no matter the reactions he received, Reigns gave his heart and soul to the business every single time he stepped into the ring.

After a long battle with cancer, the sport of football giving up on him, and family and financial concerns, Reigns has never wavered in being a positive public figure and a workhorse for this company for years.

Within hours of his announcement, support from around the world flooded social media. Media outlets including ESPN, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and Good Morning America all mentioned the story on Twitter. Athletes such as Todd Gurley, John Cena, Ric Flair, Anthony Rizzo, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Vince McMahon, and countless others took to social media in support of Reigns. It is clear to see that even though the character of Roman Reigns has had varying levels of support throughout the years, the man behind the character is as classy, respected, and supported as anyone in the business.

Reigns made it clear to wrap up the promo that his statement was NOT a retirement speech by any means. So therefore, this is not a farewell tribute piece dedicated to The Big Dog. But simply a break from kayfabe to honor and respect a man about to face a mountain of a challenge. And to give nothing but support and well-wishes until the day he walks out of the locker room, down the ramp, into the ring, and reclaims his Universal Championship.

Cancer seems to have picked the wrong dude to mess with. We know that Joe will beat this like he has before, and will be back better than ever. Believe that.


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