By Jason Howe (@JediFett)
Just reading that name probably evokes any number of reactions from you. For me, it’s pride, love, and appreciation. I know it probably comes as a surprise to you, dear reader, but Roman Reigns is my favorite wrestler. So this has clearly been quite the week, with Reigns’ announcement on Monday Night RAW that his leukemia that had been remission for 11 years, has returned.
While a lot of his fans just followed him as their favorite member of The Shield, I came in much later. I hadn’t been into wrestling since probably 1999. I was a WCW fan growing up, and as their product started to fall apart, I drifted away. But in 2015, when Stephen Amell, star of one of my favorite shows, Arrow, announced he was going to be on RAW, I was intrigued and decided to tune in. After his segment setting up a match with Stardust at SummerSlam, I figured “oh what the heck?” and kept watching the show. I was having fun, and was being slowly reminded of why I loved this whole wrestling thing in the first place.
Roman’s thunderous theme song hit, and he slowly made his way through the WWE Universe to be in Dean Ambrose’s corner for a match against Luke Harper. I was captivated by his look, his swagger, and his icy demeanor. He nailed Bray Wyatt with a Superman Punch on the outside, and for the first time in over a decade, I popped for a wrestling move. At that moment, WWE had it’s claws in me, and I signed up for the WWE Network, reasoning that it was a great deal at the low, low price of $9.99 a month, and the first month is free! What a bargain!
SummerSlam came and went, Amell was great, Roman and Dean had a fun tag match with Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. The next night on RAW, my favorite wrestler of all time returned. The Icon, Sting. At that point I was hooked. I went back on the Network and caught myself up on my new favorites, going on a deep dive of Shield matches. Seth Rollins’ work was top notch, and Dean Ambrose was there too. But I kept finding myself in awe of Roman’s power and athleticism for a man of his size.
I think I may have benefited from not being around for the initial Roman Reigns controversy among the fans that surrounded the 2014 Rumble and WrestleMania 31. I wasn’t jaded by it, I just genuinely liked the performer. As I joined wrestling Twitter, I quickly found out that Roman was not held in such high esteem by others, but I didn’t care. He was my guy now. Over the next three years I watched Roman go through WWE like a buzz saw. He claimed his first World Championship, and even had an entire Rumble and Mania basically built around him (Relax, I thought it was lame too, but I look back and think that it shows how highly WWE thinks of him.) I watched his match quality improve, and he made great strides in his promo ability.
Fast forward to Monday October 22, 2018. I was at work, and suddenly my phone started blowing up. “Are you watching this?” “Is this real?” I was thoroughly confused so I jumped in the NAI Patreon chat, asking what was going on. The chat was going crazy, with the most common phrase being “Holy shit.” Then finally someone filled me in.
“Roman has leukemia.”
My head swam, then as I slowly saw confirmation roll in on Twitter, my heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. How could this happen? Why was it happening? I got home and pulled up his speech on my DVR. Roman walked slowly to the ring, in plain clothes, with the Universal Championship draped over his shoulder.
“The reality is my real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s back.” I was stunned. I was angry, I was confused, I was sad. It wasn’t fair. My favorite wrestler, at the top of the mountain, in the prime of his career. Leukemia. It didn’t feel real.
But what happened next absolutely floored me. Pretty much every wrestler I’ve ever heard of took to social media to wish Roman well. And many of them went above and beyond the normal “thoughts and prayers” diatribe. Many shared personal stories of Roman being a friend and a mentor. Words like “locker room leader” were used. However divisive Roman might be among wrestling fans, one thing was clear. He was universally loved by wrestlers.
I understand if Roman isn’t your favorite wrestler. I truly do. But just know that for at least one fan out there, he brought me back to wrestling, and I have met some of the greatest people and had some of the most fantastic experiences being a wrestling fan again. He reminded me what I felt when I was 12 years old watching Sting kick ass. He reminded me what it’s like to have a hero.
So for now, I wait, and wish him the very best and a speedy recovery. And when the Big Dog finally does return to his Yard on Monday Night RAW, to an electric crowd and a white hot pop, I will be cheering right along with them. Because he will beat this. He can. He will.
Follow the author, New Age Insiders Patreon subscriber, Jason Howe at @JediFett