Roman Reigns Reveals 11-Year Leukemia Battle, Relinquishes WWE Universal Championship (Video)

“By no means is this a retirement speech,” the “Raw” superstar says

WWE Superstar Roman Reigns (real name Joe Anoa’i) revealed Monday on “Raw” that he’s been battling leukemia for 11 years. Unfortunately, the disease is back.

Per WWE, Reigns is “taking a leave of absence” to fight the disease, which “had been in remission since late 2008.”

“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,” WWE said in a Monday night media release.

The Universal Champion relinquished his title on the USA Network flagship show, coming to the ring in street clothes rather than the ring attire he is usually seen wearing on the show. He then gave a speech in which he broke character and revealed why he did not appear at WWE live shows this past weekend.

“For months now, 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 that I’d be consistent and I said that I’d be a workhorse but…that’s all lies.”

“That’s a lie because the reality is…my real name is Joe…and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years. And unfortunately, it’s back.”

Reigns went on to discuss how he was first diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 22, when he had no money and after he had ended his brief pro football career.

“But you want to know who gave me a chance? The team that gave me a chance was WWE,” he said. “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…and to be honest, you have all made my dreams come true.”

“By no means is this a retirement speech,” he promised. “I will beat this, I will be back, and you will see me very, very soon.”

After saying his (temporary) goodbyes to the WWE Universe, Reigns was joined on the entrance ramp by his brothers in wrestling faction The Shield. Reigns’ partner, Seth Rollins, could be seen holding back tears as he embraced Reigns on stage.

Reigns’ shocking announcement comes 11 days before he was scheduled to defend his Universal Championship against Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar at Crown Jewel, the second event WWE has held in Saudi Arabia this year. The event has been placed under intense scrutiny after the disappearance of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whom the Saudi government is suspected of killing.

As many American companies have reconsidered or outright withdrawn their partnerships with Saudi Arabia over the incident, WWE has moved forward with holding the event but has removed any mention of Riyadh as the event’s host city from their programming. The main event match has changed to a one-on-one bout between Strowman and Lesnar for the vacated Universal Championship.

With John Cena transitioning to a part-time wrestling schedule, Reigns has been one of the top wrestlers in WWE over the past three years. Along with winning the Universal Championship, Reigns has become a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, won the 2015 Royal Rumble, and has competed in the main event of four consecutive Wrestlemanias, joining Hulk Hogan as only the second wrestler to do so in the history of the event.