By Justin Barrasso
Even with a new edge to his character, Roman Reigns takes great pride in being someone kids can look up to—especially those who, like him, have been diagnosed with cancer.
While it is not possible to see the world through the eyes of Roman Reigns, you will soon be able to wear his sunglasses.
Reigns has partnered with Shady Rays, which has created a new brand of sunglasses that feature his personal tribal tattoo on the arm of the shades. A portion of every sale is being donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a deeply personal cause for Reigns, who is in remission after two experiences with the disease.
“We created something that represents me and my culture,” says Reigns, who is Joe Anoa’i outside of the wrestling ring. “This is a product I believe in. Plus, we’re contributing on a charitable level through LLS, promoting and creating awareness, doing whatever we can to help families through a very tough time.”
Reigns and Shady Rays collaborated with famed tattoo artist Mike Fatutoa, who used his expertise to embed a piece of the WWE star’s heritage into the sunglasses. Reigns was first drawn to Shady Rays by CEO Chris Ratterman’s unrelenting desire to use his product to give back to those less fortunate.
“Shady Rays is using their platform to promote a product and a way of life with a positive outlook, which is my same exact goal,” Reigns says. “There are all sorts of struggles out there. The world and social media can be so toxic, so it’s very important to share the positive moments to create hope. I take a lot of pride in shining the light on the good.”
Honesty and authenticity are central elements of Reigns’s outlook on life. That is no different from the way he has modeled his current persona in WWE as “The Tribal Chief.” The prevailing theme throughout pro wrestling’s existence has been the battle of good versus evil, but Reigns is tweaking the formula with his “Head of the Table” character.
“Even though the ‘Tribal Chief’ and ‘Head of the Table’ can make me look like a bad guy, I still make it a point to remain very authentic,” Reigns says. “I’m trying to shine a different light on being the top guy in WWE. For so long, the guy in that position was a superhero, someone that was bulletproof. This is different. Seeing the struggle and the burden, I thought that could be something people connected with. We all bond through adversity, we all bond through struggle. We all understand falling down and the process that’s involved in getting back up. So that’s what we’re doing, showing a different view of it from the highest level possible.”
Reigns is approaching the one-year mark of his reign as universal champion. Over that stretch, he has never encountered anyone with the charisma or wit of his current opponent, John Cena, who he will meet on Saturday at SummerSlam.
“There’s no denying that John is doing a great job in Hollywood,” Reigns says. “It’s very encouraging to see the way he’s transitioned and displayed the performing arts skills he learned in WWE. But come SummerSlam, when he’s in the ring with me, John is going to wish he stayed in Hollywood.”
Cena returned to WWE in surprising fashion at last month’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view, where he interrupted Reigns during a post-match promo following his in-ring triumph against Edge. The moment was sensational, executed perfectly by Cena, as well as Reigns, who had a look of pure dejection on his face as he watched Cena parade around his ring.
“Once his music hit, I knew there would be a magnifying glass on us, which is exactly what you want,” Reigns says. “I knew that moment was going to mean a lot. And it’s been that way ever since as we’re headed to SummerSlam.
“John is sharp with his insults, he’s a great live performer and a maestro of the crowd, but not everything he says is true. I don’t say stuff just to get a great reaction, I get a great reaction because people connect with what I say. There are facts all over my promos, and we’re constantly laying out a compelling narrative. No one can do what I am doing right now.”
An 11-year pro, Reigns has never been more effective than he is right now. In terms of presentation and efficiency, he is connecting on all cylinders. Reigns has the most intense matches, genuinely gripping interviews and makes every segment on-screen feel enormously important. Alongside Paul Heyman and The Usos, he is aligned with the most talented ensemble in all of wrestling. Reigns is in the thick of a prime that has no twilight in sight, yet he remains acutely aware that there is a greater purpose in his life than what he accomplishes in WWE.
“I enjoy entertaining and the whole philosophy of WWE—putting smiles on faces—and that became even more intimate after I shared my story and my fight against leukemia,” Reigns says. “I love the great matches and the adrenaline rush of a live microphone and popping the crowd, making memories with The Usos and Paul, but nothing compares to being with these children and being able to positively affect their day. That’s the true purpose of all this. I’m blessed to be able to make that kind of difference in the world, which extends deeper than my career. That is the purpose in my life.”
Now 36, the former college football player turned wrestling star has become a beacon of hope and perseverance for children, especially ones facing a cancer diagnosis. Unexpectedly, this role manifested organically. As a father, Reigns always took pride in raising his five children, though he never expected to be in a position to provide a voice and strength to kids across the globe.
“I have a connection with children all over the world,” Reigns says. “That’s why I shared my story, and that’s why I wanted to do it honestly. If there was anyone who could connect with my story, I thought that would be great. Then I was blessed enough to be able to come back and continue to chase my dream, and I felt that was a critical opportunity to share a positive success story. I have a responsibility to push those positive stories and be a positive force for the young ones going through it.”
His passion for inspiring others is on full display every time he is in the vicinity of a child.
“I’ve always had the goal and aspiration to do something special, first in football and then in WWE,” Reigns says. “I never knew how my life would fall into place, but I’ve been blessed. God has looked over my path, and I am in a position where my family is happy and healthy, I can protect them, and I have been blessed with a chance to positively impact the lives of others. That’s why shedding a light on awareness is very important.
“There have been so many advancements in blood cancer in the medications and the oral chemotherapy, making the process more comfortable for the patients and their families. So much of that is for adults, so there is still constant work to make that better for children.”
While he is healthy and successful at the moment, a deep look at his journey shows the way he constantly rose above struggles, doubt and even sickness. He hopes his partnership with Shady Rays will help raise awareness for LLS.
“The mission behind Shady Rays is real, and that is why I am connecting with them,” Reigns says. “And this runs so deep. We all have a struggle, but it’s worth being here in this life and this world. I have a lot of gratitude for being here, and I hope everyone keeps finding new ways to embrace all the adversity they’ve conquered in their lives.”