WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” delivered a 5-week viewership high last night, when Universal Champion Roman Reigns opened the show with some terrible real-life news. Reigns, whose real name is Joe Anoa’i, revealed to the USA Network audience that his leukemia has returned.
Last night’s three-hour “Raw” drew an average of 2.54 million total viewers, according to Nielsen, which was 6 percent better than the prior episode.
Monday marked the third-straight week of “Raw” audience growth.
Anoa’i, a leader in the locker room and the face of the pro-wrestling company, stunned the crowd by revealing an 11-year battle with cancer. The disease had been in remission until a recent diagnosis.
Reigns surrendered the top “Raw” title at the very top of the show.
Monday’s “Raw” ended with Reign’s brothers in wrestling faction The Shield defeating Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre, winning the Tag Team Championship in the night’s main event. Their celebration would be brief, however, as Dean Ambrose soon turned on teammate Seth Rollins by delivering a Dirty Deeds DDT to the “Kingslayer” and effectively turning “heel” (the pro-wrestling term for a bad guy).
“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,” Reigns said in the middle of the ring last night to open the show. “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,” Reigns promised. “I will beat this, I will be back, and you will see me very, very soon.”
Readers can watch the somber segment here.
“Raw” airs live Mondays from 8-11 p.m. ET on USA.