Courtesy of WWE / M+F Magazine
It was a storyline twist even the most astute WWE fans never saw coming.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Roman Reigns entered the ring in Providence, RI, uncharacteristically dressed in street clothes and greeted with a mix of cheers and jeers. The reaction was to be expected. At 6’3″, 265 pounds, the strong, athletic, and ring-savvy half- Samoan, half-Italian bruiser had become one of the most polarizing WWE Superstars on the roster. Reigns—a six-time WWE champ who had headlined the previous four WrestleManias—had built a massive fan base during his six-year tenure. But there also were factions within the WWE Universe that viewed his main-event push as forced and used any opportunity to let him know it.
As Reigns stood in the center of the ring, mic in hand and the WWE Universal Championship belt draped over his shoulder, he took an extra beat before he spoke. He wasn’t there to goose the crowd or further a story angle, he was there to reveal that the man behind the character—Leati “Joe” Anoa’i, a husband and father of three—had leukemia and would need to step away from WWE for treatment.
“It was such a heavy moment,” he recalls. “If that was going to be my last 10 minutes out…