'I've been living with leukemia for 11 years. Unfortunately, it's back,' the WWE champion announced on Monday

By Christian Holub
October 23, 2018 at 12:54 PM EDT
Ron ElkmanSports Imagery/Getty Images

WWE wrestler Roman Reigns (a.k.a. Leati Joseph Anoaʻi) is relinquishing the Universal Championship title he won this past August due to an ongoing battle with leukemia.

“I feel like I owe everybody 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 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,” Reigns said on Monday night’s episode of WWE Raw. “It’s a lie because the reality is my real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years. Unfortunately, it’s back. Because the leukemia is back, I cannot fulfill my role. I cannot be that fighting champion, and I’m going to have to relinquish the Universal Championship.”

Reigns has long divided opinion among wrestling fans and critics alike. In the official clip of his announcement, after Reigns starts discussing his leukemia, you can hear people in the audience shouting “you still suck!” Perhaps he expected this, because he said, “it didn’t matter if you cheered me, it didn’t matter if you booed me. You’ve always reacted to me, and that is the most important thing. For that, I have to say thank you so much.”

Reigns also made clear that this was not necessarily a retirement speech: “After I’m done whooping leukemia’s ass once again, I’m coming back home. And when I do, it’s not just gonna be about titles and being on top, it’s about a purpose.”

After finishing his speech, Reigns tearfully placed his Universal Champion belt in the middle of the ring and left. He was joined by Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, his former comrades in The Shield, who expressed their solidarity with Reigns. Other wrestlers made their support for him clear on social media afterward. Check those out below, and watch the full clip above.