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Reflecting On WWE Star Roman Reigns' Announcement That He Has Leukemia

October 24, 2018
Kevin Eck is a former member of the WWE creative team and now blogs about pro wrestling for PressBox. 

It's been a couple of days since Roman Reigns made the shocking announcement on "Raw" that he has leukemia, but I still haven't been able to fully process it.

While no one saw this coming, it was apparent when Reigns appeared on the stage to open the show Oct. 22 that something was up. He was dressed in street clothes rather than his usual Kevlar ring attire and his hair was pulled back in a bun. He also had a somber look on his face and took a deep breath before heading down the ramp to the ring.

Reigns, as always, was greeted with a mixed reaction from the crowd. By the time he was finished speaking, however, the majority of the fans were chanting, "Thank you, Roman." Several fans were shown wiping tears from their eyes.

"My real name is Joe, and I've been living with leukemia for 11 years," he revealed. "And unfortunately it's back."

Reigns, 33, then relinquished his Universal Championship and said he needed to step away from WWE and focus on his health and family. He made it clear that it wasn't a retirement speech and he vowed to beat cancer for the second time and return to the ring.

After Reigns made his way back to the stage and buried his head in the arms of his on-air teammates and real-life friends Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, I couldn't help but get a little choked up as well. I got a lump in my throat just typing that sentence.

The whole surreal scene was a jarring reminder that the larger-than-life superstars of WWE are real people. And this was as real as it gets.

Reigns has been the most polarizing figure in WWE for several years, as a significant portion of the audience pushed back hard on his huge push to the top of the card. I'm so glad the fans in attendance in Providence, R.I., Oct. 22 were able to distinguish Joe Anoa'i from the Roman Reigns character.

I worked with Reigns from 2012-2014 during my time on the WWE creative team, and while I didn't know him well, he was always approachable and easy to work with. I saw first-hand how much effort he put into being the best performer he could be.

That's why the level of vitriol the fans directed at Reigns always bothered me. He didn't deserve it, and it often felt like they were rejecting the person as much as the character.

It all seems so trivial now. Whether you loved Roman Reigns or loved to hate Roman Reigns, I believe the entire WWE Universe is rooting for Joe Anoa'i. 

***

The old saying "the show must go on" has always been true in WWE, and it certainly was the case on "Raw." The episode concluded with Ambrose turning on Rollins and brutalizing him right after The Shield duo won the Raw Tag Team Title.

The seeds for Ambrose's heel turn had been planted in recent weeks and it was just a matter of time before it happened, but no one could've predicted it was going to occur on the same night Reigns made his emotional announcement.

"Not tonight!" announcer Michael Cole yelled after Ambrose attacked Rollins. "Not on this night!"

Earlier in the show, Ambrose and Rollins vowed to win the title for Reigns, so I think we all were expecting a feel-good moment. We got it -- but it was fleeting.

Some fans on social media have criticized WWE for the timing of Ambrose's turn and have accused the company of exploiting Reigns' cancer. I couldn't disagree more.

It was the perfect time to pull the trigger on the turn, not only because no one expected it, but also because it really struck a nerve with the audience. That's what major plot twists are supposed to do, and I have no doubt that Reigns fully supported the decision to do the angle.

Ambrose now has massive heat and Rollins couldn't possibly be any more of a sympathetic figure. 

***

Reigns taking a leave of absence created a ripple effect, which included Elias turning babyface on the show and beginning a feud with Baron Corbin, and a revised main event for the "Crown Jewel" pay-per-view Nov. 2.

The main event originally was a Triple Threat Match between Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman for Reigns' Universal Title, but now it will be a one-on-one match between Lesnar and Strowman for the vacant championship.

It was the most logical solution. Strowman, who began a babyface turn on last week's "Raw," now fills the void left by Reigns as the top babyface on the roster. My guess is that he wins his first Universal Championship at "Crown Jewel" and then begins a title program with Drew McIntyre.

***

There's no one better at cutting a promo to sell a pay-per-view than Paul Heyman, but he may have outdone himself on "Raw" Oct. 22.

Heyman faced the difficult task of selling the Lesnar-Strowman main event at "Crown Jewel" while also having to acknowledge the reality of why Reigns is no longer in the match. He handled the delicate situation expertly.

Heyman began the promo by breaking character, as he offered Reigns -- a longtime storyline nemesis of Heyman and his client, Lesnar -- his thoughts and prayers and put over Reigns' courage. He then seamlessly transitioned into talking about the importance of the title and the match between Lesnar and Strowman.

"Roman Reigns is the first person to tell you the show must go on, and so it does," an emotional Heyman said. "At 'Crown Jewel,' Brock Lesnar versus Braun Strowman, and only one can stand up and say I'm the one that carries on the legacy that Roman Reigns brought to this ring tonight. I'm the one that's worthy of the prestige of being the champion … and that sure as hell ain't Braun Strowman."

Catch "The Hot Tag" every  Wednesday  on PressBoxOnline.com, and follow Kevin Eck on Twitter, @TheKevinEck. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Craig Hunter Ross