Roman Reigns has been standing tall at the summit of the WWE mountain for some time now. “The Head of the Table” captured the Universal Championship in August 2020 and has enjoyed the longest reign with that title in company history. He also added the WWE Championship to his waist at WrestleMania 38 by defeating Brock Lesnar, making him the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion.

Reigns’ rise in WWE has been an intriguing one. Following his separation from the dominant faction known as The Shield, he was catapulted to the top of the promotion and wrestled in the main event of four consecutive WrestleManias, a feat that has been matched only by Hulk Hogan. It was obvious that WWE was grooming Reigns to be the top babyface in the company, in the same vein as Hogan and John Cena — which could be why wrestling fans seemed unwilling to accept him in that role.

It took an intrusion from real life to change the fans’ perception of Reigns. In 2018, he stood in the middle of the ring and broke character, revealing his shocking struggle with a deadly illness and, for the first time, using his real name.

‘My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for eleven years.’

 

On October 22, 2018, Reigns announced that the leukemia he’d been dealing with for over a decade had returned, and that he would have to temporarily leave wrestling to battle the cancer once again. During the segment, which took place on “WWE Raw,” Reigns broke the fourth wall with five words: “My real name is Joe.”

Reigns’ full name, in fact, is Leati Joseph Anoaʻi. He is a part of the famous Anoaʻi family that has seen generations of performers step through the ropes to compete, including (among many, many other notable talents) current NXT wrestler Solo Sikoa, reigning WWE Tag Team Champions the Usos, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Reigns returned in 2019 after sending leukemia backpedaling for the second time in his life. Still a babyface, and with the crowd somewhat more sympathetic toward him, he slowly began working his way back toward the championship picture. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, however, Reigns was again forced to stay away from wrestling for a time, as the leukemia meant he was immunocompromised. Upon his return in August 2020 at SummerSlam, he became a heel for the first time since 2014, aligning himself with the notorious Paul Heyman and quickly capturing the Universal title. His villainous two-year run with the gold has been a game-changer for the Reigns character and presentation, allowing him to express his natural charisma and showcase a side of himself that seems a million miles away from “Joe.”

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