Roman Reigns announced in October on Monday Night Raw that he had leukemia and would be stepping away from WWE. The news came as a shock to the fanbase and even those within the WWE.
Over the past 10 months, Reigns’ cancer was treated (he’s now in remission), he returned in time to perform at WrestleMania, and he won an ESPY for best WWE moment. On Monday, it was announced that Reigns would be on the cover of the WWE 2K20 video game alongside Becky Lynch. The game drops on Oct. 22.
It has been a scary, wild, fulfilling and motivational year for Reigns. ESPN caught up with the former WWE Universal and world heavyweight champion to talk about 2K20, his recovery from leukemia, teaming with The Undertaker, controversy around Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, and more.
ESPN: You were in L.A. for the ESPYS, winning that award, a few weeks ago, and now you’ll be on the cover of WWE 2K20. Is there any special significance to these recent accolades, considering what you went through just a short time ago?
Reigns: To be honest, man, all I really wanted to do was be healthy — be able to get back in the ring and wrestle. I just wanted to be able to do the art form that my family has been doing for decades. And I just wanted to be healthy for my children. That was the only award or reward that I needed.
I just hope that it just continues to raise that awareness. All these different events, it’s just another platform for me to tell my story and hopefully raise a bit of awareness and hopefully give maybe just one person a shred of hope. It’s not just cancer, blood cancer. It’s anything, from depression to all kinds of different struggles that we’re all dealing with.
ESPN: Were there dark moments during those few months when you thought you wouldn’t be able to come back?
Reigns: As soon as we got on the road to recovery, [we] started addressing some of the side effects I was having. One of them was extremely high uric acid levels, [which happens] whenever your blood levels get thrown off. Within leukemia, you have an elevated white-blood-cell count. What I thought was a crazy gout situation due to my diet or red meat or shellfish, that type of stuff, it was just my blood being affected through what was going on.
I had crazy arthritis from my feet all the way up to my hips. So for about the first month, month and a half, I couldn’t really walk around much. It was really painful. I was on my butt quite a bit — a little bit of Call of Duty here and there, a little 2K time. Luckily, through medication and the doctors taking care of me and making the proper adjustments, I was able to get back on my feet.
Once I felt better, it was like, OK, now the light at the end of the tunnel peeked back out. For a second, it was pretty dark.
ESPN: Working out and being active is a big part of who you are. Did that challenge make it even harder?
Reigns: It felt weird mentally because I felt ashamed. I’m a very dominant male figure. I’m an alpha male, for sure. So, like, it really felt weird to be … I didn’t feel like I was the man that I’d always worked to be and projected myself to be. Especially because for my wife and my family, I try to be that superman as much as possible. For me to have to take that cape off and have to just be truthful with myself and say, “I don’t have it right now, and god willing, it’ll come back” [was hard].
ESPN: Is this something you’re still battling?
Reigns: You can go into your different remissions, all the way until there’s zero traces of the chromosomes within your blood, but blood cancer, it affects you for a lifetime. I’m gonna have to stay on my medication my whole life. With this crazy life and crazy schedule and the position that I’m in, I can oftentimes put everybody else before myself, so I have to continually remind myself, “If you’re not the best you, it’s gonna affect everybody in a negative way.”
ESPN: Are you back full-time with WWE yet?
Reigns: It’s just been since Mania, it’s been a crazy schedule. I’ve had a few other things with outside projects. The different “Hobbs & Shaw” experiences. I haven’t been on as many live events as I usually have been. That’s always been a big part of my schedule, just being on every show, being on everything.
I’ve been on every TV, I’ve wrestled in main events, I’ve wrestled in long singles matches, I’ve wrestled in crazy tag matches, Shield reunions.
I think we have to be smart and obviously not burn me out, but I feel good, man. On top of that, we’ve had a lot of talent step up. I’m very proud to share that spotlight and show the depth of the WWE roster. I like to think that I’m one of our studs, but I’m proud to say we have a whole pasture full of bulls that can run it down and hold it down.
ESPN: How was it being a tag-team partner with The Undertaker? Any other dream tag-team partners?
Reigns: First of all, it was so cool. It was unfortunate what happened out there in the desert [against Goldberg in Saudi Arabia]. It was a tough situation. It was hot as hell out there. Those guys aren’t in the ring all the time. You have to have your wrestling legs under you. Even when I miss a few live events, I can feel it. This is one of those things, the more you do it, the better you are, the better off you are, the better you feel in the ring. That was just the main focus: Get him out there, and let’s have fun.
He was moving good. He felt that high boot, damn near went over everybody’s head. He’s in great shape, he looked good. To be honest, I might be lying if I said there’s gonna be a [better] dream partner out there. That night was so cool, I don’t think I’ll be able to up that. The only other type of tag situations that have been as meaningful have been within The Shield to me because those are my brothers.
ESPN: Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose) said on the Chris Jericho podcast that he refused to say a couple of things about you and your illness that they wanted him to say. Do you know what he’s talking about?
Reigns: No. And that’s the thing. If you refuse to say it, you refuse to say it. You didn’t say the stuff, and nothing happened. You didn’t get fired, so you don’t have to do any of that stuff. If you don’t really want to do it, you have to speak up for yourself. That’s the key to this business. That’s a bit contradictory in my mind right there. If you chose not to say that one thing, why can’t you choose to say another thing?
ESPN: Seth Rollins has been vocal on Twitter lately in speaking out against Moxley’s comments after leaving. How do you view the situation?
Reigns: That’s my boy, man. He’s passionate. He’s always been like that, you just don’t always hear it. Seth is strong, he’s hard-headed, he’s stubborn. That’s how he’s always been. He’s an ultra-alpha male. He wants to be the best all the time. That’s why he is where he is. That’s why he’s at that position — because he has that drive.
He is emotional — of course, he is. Because we bust our ass, man. I love this place. I’ll tell you straight-up: I disagree with what [Dean] Ambrose said about the creative process. I love the guy. I love him to death. He’s my brother. And wrestling ain’t gonna stop that. On a personal level, me and that dude can hang out, have a beer or two and just talk. And even when we don’t talk, that’s just our relationship.
When it comes down to it, creative-wise, that’s on you. Communication is communication. When you go in there and you talk to boss, you gotta let him know. He even made comments about the things I had to say, but that was in a different place. I was brand-new.
We’ve worked our asses off for Vince [McMahon] in this company, and he respects that, and he wants to know our opinions. You have to speak up for yourself. I’m in a position now where he listens to everything I have to say, what I’m feeling.
Early on, when you don’t have any equity, when you haven’t put in any time, you should do what the boss says. But once you earn that equity, once you got the keys to the car — which Ambrose was clearly in that position because all three of us [were] — you have to speak up for yourself and do what’s right for you.
Regardless, I love the dude, man. We came from the bottom and got to where we are now, and he’s a huge part of that. No type of business rivalry or any of that crap will ever affect the personal relationship I have with either Seth or Dean. We’re all gonna do our thing. We’re having fun. I’m enjoying where I’m at. I enjoy being with the WWE. I’ll never be anywhere else.