Ten years after his initial leukemia diagnosis, WWE Champion Roman Reigns will be stepping away from the ring.
On Monday, the 33-year-old wrestler, born Joe Anoa’i, announced during an episode of WWE Raw that his cancer had returned and he would be giving up his championship title and taking a leave of absence from the sport.
“The reality is my name is Joe and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years and unfortunately it’s back,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Because the leukemia is back, I can’t fulfill my role. I can’t be that fighting champion and I’m going to have to relinquish the universal championship.”
“I’m not going to lie, I’ll take every prayer you can send my way but I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not looking for you to feel bad for me because I have faith,” he continued.
The star was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008 when he was 22-years-old and explained to the crowd in Providence, Rhode Island that the wrestling community helped him get through that difficult period in his life.
“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.”
“But you wanna know who gave me a chance? The team that gave me a chance was the WWE,” he continued.
As he wrapped up his speech, the wrestler explained that although he was relinquishing the title to focus on his family and health, he was confident that he would return to the ring.
“This is by no means a retirement speech,” he said. “I will beat this, and I will be back, so you will see me very, very soon.”
Following the emotional announcement, the WWE Universe thanked the professional wrestler for his time on Twitter, while WWE echoed his earlier comments.
“DON’T call it a retirement speech. @WWERomanReigns WILL beat this, and we will see him again VERY, VERY SOON! #RAW” the wrestling organization wrote on Twitter.
Fellow wrestlers in the WWE community also shared an outpour of support on social media for the three-time world champion, with #ThankYouRoman beginning to trend.
“@WWERomanReigns My Family And I Are Thinking Of You And Are Keeping You In Our Prayers! We Are Here For You!” wrote former WWE wrestler Ric Flair.
“THANK YOU, @WWERomanReigns,” added wrestler Natalya “Nattie” Neidhart. “Praying for you and your family.”
Canadian wrestler Kevin Owens commended the wrestler for being “one of the best” both in and outside of the ring.
“Roman is one of the best I’ve ever been in the ring with and one of the guys I respect and look up to the most in this industry,” he said. “My thoughts are with him and his family. I can’t wait to see him overcome this and get to share a locker room with him again soon. #ThankYouRoman”
WWE wrestler Johnny Gargano also paid tribute to his friend and his heroic story, referring to the WWE star as a “superhero.”
“Our job gives us the ability to portray larger than life characters who possess super human qualities and characteristics,” he wrote. “After hearing his story it’s very apparent that Joe Anoa’i is just as much of a superhero as ‘Roman Reigns’ is. #ThankYouRoman”