Roman Reigns relinquishes WWE Universal Title after leukaemia revelation
As a life-long wrestling fan, I honestly believe professional wrestling is at its most entertaining when the performers blur the lines between storyline (known as kayfabe) and reality. Anticipation and excitement are at their highest for a fan when they're thinking, "Was that supposed to happen?" or "I think he's really hurt..."
However, last night's episode of WWE Monday Night Raw was the exception to this rule.
Running every Monday night for nearly 26 years, Raw has delivered its fair share of emotional moments - many of them being real-life retirement announcements from the beloved wrestlers like Ric Flair, Edge, Shawn Michaels, and Daniel Bryan.
The show has also seen many reigning champions being forced to relinquish their titles, very often due to an injury sustained in the ring. Now, these moments are very often tear-jerkers in their own right, but last night's announcement from Roman Reigns was perhaps the most emotional moment of all 1274 episodes of the company's flagship show.
The show kicked off with the show's polarising Universal Champion, Roman Reigns - real name Joseph Anoaʻi - walking down the ring to a loud chorus of cheers and boos.
It had been announced over the weekend on several wrestling news websites that Reigns had not appeared at WWE Live events on Saturday and Sunday, with many speculating that he was injured. As a fan, I wish that was the case, because the reality is a lot more upsetting.
After entering the ring, his theme music stopped and the crowd audibly booed the champ. However, Reigns quickly took to the mic and told the fans that he owed them an "apology":
"For months, maybe even a full year, I've come out here and spoke as Roman Reigns. And I said a lot of things. I said that I’d be here every single week. I said I’d be a fighting champion, I said I’d be consistent, and I said I’d be a workhorse. But that’s all lies. It’s a lie because the reality is my real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for eleven years. And unfortunately, it’s back. And because the leukemia is back, I cannot fulfil my role. I can’t be that fighting champion. And I’m going to have to relinquish the universal championship."
Once Reigns broke character and revealed his news, the crowd quickly ceased with the pantomime boos and cheered in support of the 33-year-old, even breaking into a "Thank you Roman" chant.
Reigns went on to explain that sometimes life is not fair and that he was going home to focus on his family and his health:
"I want to make one thing clear, by no means is this a retirement speech. Because after I’m done whooping leukemia’s ass once again, I’m coming home.
And when I do, it’s not going to be about titles or being on top. No, it’s about a purpose. I am coming back because I want to show all of you, the whole world, I want to show my family, my friends, my children, and my wife, that when life throws a curveball at me, I am the type of man who 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. Because I will beat this, and I will be back, so you will see me very, very soon."
Reigns that thanked the crowd, expressed his love for them and ended with his trademark, "believe that".
And if that wasn't enough to reduce a grown man to tears, Reigns was then joined at the top of the entrance ramp by his tag-team partners and "Sheild brothers", Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. As the friends embraced, Rollins was in tears and Ambrose placed his hand on his head in a moment that concreted the love and comradery between the wrestlers.
Since the news was aired, many wrestlers have written their support for Reigns on social media, including his former rival, John Cena.
"You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment. We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support.
#ThankYouRoman", the former 16-time world champion wrote on Twitter.
WWE also posted a behind-the-scenes exclusive video on their YouTube channel, which can be seen below:
There's no doubt Reigns' fight against leukemia will be an emotional and difficult time for himself, his family and friends, and his fans, but there's also no doubt he'll emerge an inspiration to so many. Our thoughts are with him.