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Roman Reigns Gives Up Wrestling Title to Fight Cancer

BY Tom Ozimek TIMEOctober 23, 2018 PRINT

Professional wrestler Roman Reigns has announced that he is stepping away from the ring to focus his energies on fighting leukemia.

Reigns, whose real name is Leati Joseph Anoa’i, announced on Monday, Oct. 22, that the cancer that he had been living with for 11 years had once again reared its head.

The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) contract fighter broke the news to fans in a moving speech in Rhode Island at the beginning of WWE’s Monday Night Raw show.

“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 going to lie, that was the hardest time in 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,” Reigns said.

The former professional football player thanked the WWE for giving him a chance after he was released by the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos in 2008. After signing with WWE in 2010, he became one of the promotion’s most prominent wrestling personalities. Reigns went on to win several titles, including the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times and the Universal Championship once.

“I want to make one thing clear—by no means is this a retirement speech,” Reigns said. “I will beat this and I will be back, so you will see me very very soon.”

Reigns then vacated the WWE Universal title and laid his belt down in the ring.

Reigns during a wrestling event
Reigns holds up the Championship Belt during the WWE Live India Tour in New Delhi, India, Jan. 15, 2018. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The fans erupted in applause.

WWE has released an official statement after Reigns’s emotional cancer revelation.

“Tonight on Monday Night Raw, Roman Reigns (aka 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,” according to The Sun. “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.”

He received support from some of the biggest names in wrestling.

“You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment. We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support,” John Cena tweeted.

Professional wrestling tag team duo Nikki and Brie Bella, known by the WWE stage name “The Bella Twins,” tweeted their support.

“You’re in our thoughts & prayers Joe. You are our Superman! Forever and always! You have an army people standing behind you ready to support and fight with you!”

Former wrestler and WWE color commentator Mick Foley shared his support for Reigns.

“Stunned. I liked and respected him from the moment I met him. Sending my very best wishes and prayers for you, Joe,” Foley tweeted.

WWE tweeted a video of fellow wrestlers offering hugs and words of encouragement for Reigns after he made his way backstage after his speech.

“Moments after announcing that his returning leukemia has forced him to relinquish the Universal Championship, @WWERomanReigns is met with an outpouring of support backstage,” WWE wrote in the tweet.

Reigns concluded his announcement by saying “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.”

“I will beat this, and I will be back and you will see me very, very soon,” Reigns said. “Once again thank you so much, God bless you and I love you. Believe that.”

Leukemia is a type of cancer that typically starts in the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
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