Roman Reigns made a shocking announcement during Monday Night Raw, relinquishing his WWE Universal Championship title with the news that his longtime battle with leukemia has returned.
"My real name is Joe," the 33-year-old wrestler told the shocked crowd at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, as he stood in the middle of the ring in street clothes. "I've been living with leukemia for 11 years. Unfortunately, it's back, and because the leukemia is back, I cannot fulfill my role, I can't be that fighting champion. And I'm gonna have to relinquish my Universal Championship."
"I'm not gonna lie, I'll take every prayer you can send my way," he continued. "But I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm not looking for you to feel bad for me, because I have faith. 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."
Reigns, whose full name is Leati Joseph Anoaʻi, grew up playing football in Pensacola, Florida, later starring for Georgia Tech before being signed by both the Minnesota Vikings and the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2007 off-season. However, he was cut by both teams before the season ever began and never played a snap in an NFL game.
"You wanna know who gave me a chance?" Reigns told the crowd on Monday night. "The team that gave me a chance was the WWE. And when I finally made it to the main roster and I was on the road, they put me in front of all of you, the WWE Universe, and to be honest, y'all have made my dreams come true."
Reigns' friends, fans and fellow wrestling stars took to social media after the announcement to share messages of support with the hashtag "#ThankYouRoman."
"‘Courage - strength in the face of pain or grief.’ You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment," wrote John Cena. "We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support."
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