Courtesy of WWE / M + F Magazine
It was an act that even the smartest WWE fans never saw coming.
On October 22, 2018, Roman Reigns entered the ring in Providence, RI, dressed unusually in street clothes and greeted with a mixture of cheers and ridicule. The reaction was to be expected. At 6 ’3”, 265 pounds, the strong, athletic, and ring-loving half Samoan, half Italian Bruiser had become one of the most polarizing WWE superstars on the squad. Reigns – a six-time WWE champion who headlined the previous four WrestleManias had built up a huge following during his six-year tenure, but there were also factions within the WWE universe who considered his push for the main event to be forced and took every opportunity to inform him.
When Reigns stood with the microphone in his hand in the middle of the ring and put the WWE Universal Championship belt over his shoulder, he gave another punch before speaking. He was not there to liven up the crowd or promote a plot, he was there to reveal that the man behind the character – Leati "Joe" Anoa & # 39; i, a husband and father of three, had leukemia had and had to withdraw from WWE for treatment.
"It was such a difficult moment," he recalls. "If it were my last 10 minutes in this ring, I didn't care what noise they made. I wanted to feel everything."
Unwritten and partially scripted WWE bits can be memorable. (The 1998 Brawl for All tournament, CM Punk's "Pipe Bomb" promo in 2011 and Edge's 2020 return to the ring all come to mind.) But Reign's & # 39; off-script monologue was connected on another level . It wasn't someone with an ax to grind; It was a visibly unsettled, healthy-looking 33-year-old athlete – a larger-than-life WWE superstar at the top of his game – who admitted to being involved in a cancer fight for the second time in eleven years.
It was nerve-wracking to testify and remember that cancer is indiscriminate and something that no one can work out of it – not even Roman Reigns.
Before he was "the big dog", Joe Anoa & # 39; i was an athletic boy from Pensacola, FL. Although his family had deep roots in pro-wrestling – WWE legends of the 90s and 00s like Yokozuna, Umaga and Rikishi are all part of the same bloodline (and although Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is not technically related, they relate to each other as) Cousins) – he didn't grow up privileged.
"There is a big misunderstanding that I grew up with a silver spoon," he says. "It wasn't like that. I lived in a small, one-story, three-bedroom, one-bathroom block of ash."
Joining the family business was not even his first career choice. As an outstanding defensive player at Georgia Tech University, who honored the first team's All-ACC team in 2006 in his last year, Anoa & # 39; i looked back on a career in the NFL.
He signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an unoccupied free agent, but a team physically raised red flags about his health. Anoa & # 39; i was sent home where chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) was diagnosed, a slowly progressing cancer of the body's white blood cells, which can affect the ability to fight infection, control bleeding, and carry oxygen. he was released.
“I was 22 years old and the carrot (to play in the NFL) was almost in my hand and slipped out immediately. Besides, my wife was pregnant … everything fell apart. I felt like I was on an island where no one could identify. "
Depending on the severity, the treatment of leukemia can range from oral medication to chemotherapy and radiation to stem cell transplants. Anoa & # 39; i would receive less invasive oral chemotherapy that would put his cancer in remission. In 2008, after trying to get his football career back on track, including stops at the Jacksonville Jaguars and a season in the Canadian Football League, he finally put his studs on.
"I thought I had some pretty good skills, but it just didn't work," he says. "But I also believe that everything happens for a reason."
Erica Schultz / M + F magazine
Let it rule
Being a WWE superstar is an ongoing business because the show never stops. Live shows take place three to four nights a week throughout the country all year round. Living out of a suitcase and being away from family and friends for most weeks is not a schedule that suits everyone. But Anoa & # 39; i knew about street life before signing a WWE development contract in 2010.
"My father and uncle were pretty successful (in wrestling), but they were alive and having a good time," he explains. "Thinking about the future was not necessarily a priority.
"In this business you can go from the top to not have a pot to piss on, so you have to be aware of who you are, where you come from and where you want to go." You need to know what anchors you. For me, it's my humble beginnings. "
Anoa's work ethic was anything but average, so he learned the ropes at Florida Championship Wrestling (later renamed NXT in 2012) for two years.
Outside the ring, he lost more than 30 pounds from his 300 pound football weight and started training like a bodybuilder. Instead of putting a lot of weight on a bar, he tried to develop strength while improving his mind-muscle connection. (For more information on training Reigns, see the next page.)
Reigns made his WWE debut in 2012. Until 2014, he was able to take the staff from John Cena as the face of the company.
"I was born into this family tree for a reason – I was cared for," he says. "So I'm not surprised to see generation superstars like me and my cousins (the Usos, a current tag team) trending up."
The upward trend continued as Reigns went into the back half of 2018: his merch was very popular, he caused strong reactions during the performances, and he looked bigger and stronger than ever before – which is what derailed the Reigns train in recently made October all the more breathtaking.
Four months after his cancer diagnosis was revealed, Reigns returned to his WWE: "I'm in remission, all of you!" he told the ecstatic crowd. When he returned to a full-time schedule, everything looked normal from the outside. But inside Joe Anoa & # 39; i had changed.
"Of course I'm thinking of the leukemia coming back," he admits. "But I feel good and strong, so why not enjoy the moment?"
After the remission, he made his first film, Hobbs & Shaw, with The Rock and began a partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to raise awareness and resources for cancer research. In the ring he looked like he was having fun.
"Kick in the middle of the ass, I'm going to hit someone or bang him with a fist because that hand may not always be out there," he says. "I try to remember that everything can be taken away in no time. Before this blinking happens, I want to enjoy this moment. "
With WrestleMania 36 on April 5th in Tampa, FL, he would enjoy a moment: recapturing the WWE Universal Championship.
"That would consolidate my comeback," he says. "But if I answer as Joe? Being healthy enough to keep up and get people up – this kind of electricity doesn't require a championship or a major event. Just give me entry and let me have fun."
Reigns uses strict bodybuilding movements to build strength and size. Do you want Bi like Roman? Try this proven arm routine of the seven-time 212 Olympic champion Flex Lewis.
Arms Like Roman Exercise Sets Repetitions Ez-Bar Curl * 6 15 Incline Dumbbell Curl ** 1 30 Hammer Curl 3 8-10 * Alternate 3 consecutive sets of 15 repetitions with ascending weights, using a narrow grip with 3 consecutive sets of 15 Repetitions with increasing weight use weights with a wide grip. ** A set of 3 sets of drops with 10 to 12 repetitions each.
Reign gives the 411 on LLS
Entertaining people is a blessing, but when I felt better I wanted to connect and really help. I've seen how struggle can create camaraderie – some of the people I'm closest to are because we fought together. And then we fought and climbed together to get out of this hole. A partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) was the perfect solution. It has raised so much money for research, but nobody knew about it. It was almost like a secret. And how better to raise awareness and spread the message than working with WWE, which has eight hours of content every week?
Working with LLS was incredible, especially as part of the children's initiative. It is important to save as many lives as possible, but if we don't save our future, what do we focus on?
For more information about LLS or to donate, visit lls.org.
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Together we are tougher than cancer and the partnership between @WWE and @leukemialymphomasociety makes us so much stronger. Join our fight and help us find better treatment options for pediatric cancer patients. @wweshop