Revisiting Roman Reigns’s Candid ‘Talk Is Jericho’ Interview In Light Of His Cancer Announcement


No one who tuned in to WWE‘s Monday Night Raw on October 22 could have expected what opened the show. Roman Reigns, in street clothes, entered the ring and announced that he had been battling leukemia for the past eleven years after being diagnosed at the age of 22. He said his cancer was back, so he was vacating the Universal Championship and leaving pro wrestling in order to fight it, but promised he would be back “very, very soon.”

During his announcement, Reigns briefly described the period of his life surrounding his cancer diagnosis. He said,

When I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with this, and very quickly I was able to put it in remission. But I’m not going to lie, that was the hardest time of my life. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have a home, and I had a baby on the way, and football was done with me. But you want to know who gave me a chance? The team that gave me a chance was the WWE.

This was the first most people who know of Roman Reigns had heard about his struggle with cancer. Obviously, we, wrestling fans who don’t know Joe Anoa’i personally, don’t need to know anything about him besides what he chooses to share, but this sheds some new light on what we already knew.

The basic, public story of Anoa’i’s life goes like this: born into wrestling royalty, son of Sika Anoa’i of the Wild Samoans tag team, brother of Rosey. Star high school football player. Star Georgia Tech football player and team captain in his senior year. Signed by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, then the Jacksonville Jaguars, but released by both teams before the start of the 2007 NFL season. We now know this would have been around the time he was diagnosed with leukemia.

The rest of his professional football career consisted of five games for the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL in 2008. He was released by that team in November of that year and retired from football. WWE’s press release about Reigns’ announcement stated that his cancer “had been in remission since late 2008.” Reigns was signed to WWE’s developmental territory, in its last days of being called Florida Championship Wrestling, in 2010.

In light of his announcement, I wanted to share this transcription of a story Reigns told on Chris Jericho’s podcast, Talk Is Jericho, in 2017, about the period of his life between the end of his football career and when he started working for WWE. This part of that podcast stuck in my mind as an inspiring story of a person getting his life back together. Despite not sharing any of Reigns’ more unique experiences and circumstances, I related to it a lot where I was in my life at the time, and it reminded me of a lot of people I knew.

Here is the story Reigns told in response to Jericho’s question about how he got into the pro wrestling business after the end of football career:

Once I left Canada, I knew it was done. I flew home to Atlanta. My wife was still in college. She was finishing school and taking care of our daughter at the time. I had the money I had saved from Canada, so we were sitting on that. She was about to graduate, but I knew we couldn’t stay in Atlanta. I just – at that point, like, it was either go back to school which – I could have done that, and maybe I should have done that – or go home, you know, where my family is and people who have my back and game plan, game plan… I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At that point I was scrambling, you know what I mean? I just had my daughter; she was probably, like, six, seven months at this point, you know, by the time I got back from Canada…

But yeah, the person who helped me the most was my sister, Vanessa, the oldest one. She runs an office furniture installation company… She hired me, and she gave me a job and I worked for her, and guess who worked there? The Usos!

We had no direction, you know, and the thing is, I’d played football and, like, I almost made it, and once I got into football, I was like, “I’m going to be the first one to do my own thing.” You know what I mean? Like, I got so much respect for everybody in my family because they’ve all been so successful and had just great stories and great memories and done things not many men have done, but, like, I was about to do my own thing. And I think my dad really liked that. He really liked the fact that I played football, but it just didn’t work, and she hooked us up and we all just worked as office furniture installers. Like, we’d load trucks. We’d offload them. We’d break down the cardboard. We’d build the shit. We’d load the cardboard back up. We’d take it home, we’d offload it, and we’d do it again every single day. But, like, we had fun. We were the loudest, like, installation crew…

So we were doing that and, you know, just like how we always are, we’re still brothering, you know, hanging out. We had this bar – I don’t think it’s still there anymore. Our wives hate this bar – called Boomers, and we’d go there and just be animals and act like fools and tip ’em good and leave. And it was just, like, it was just one of those times in your life when you wake up and look in the mirror and you’re not happy and you know it. And you put the shirt on, and god bless it, it said Proactive Installations. And I loved it because it was my family’s and it was my sister’s and I knew, like, I owed it to her, but like, at the same time I felt like I owed it to myself because, like, at this time I was trying to lose weight.

So I was starting to see like the old me like in high school, and I was a young stud back in high school and, like, I got in college, you get chubby, you get quiet, you know what I mean? (Laughs) “I’m a big guy. I’m a sit over here and drink beer and hang out with the boys.” But, like, I was starting to shed some weight and see my old face. I didn’t have hair. I, like, I got pissed – actually, we were in Boomers one day – and I had long hair when I played football, and at this point I had really long hair – and we were in Boomers one day. We got off work early and we were all excited – power hour, let’s go, lightning round. We go to Boomers for an hour and get hammered. I start cutting a promo, “I hate my hair. It’s so hot outside. I’m going to White’s right now” – White’s was the barber shop. I went to the barber shop; just got my head shaved completely off… came back, new guy, man.

And I was just starting to lose that weight and I was getting back into working out again, like, because, like, after football – they used to yell at us, like “Lift that, pussy!” You know what I mean? Just go away so I can lift this! You can’t even lift this, get out of here! I know you know the form, but you can’t lift this weight, so walk away. And I was just tired of it. And then finally I got into it and I was going to the Power House in Pensacola and just getting into shape and that’s the point – at this point, I was by myself, like, because the twins left and went to Texas.

Eki [Umaga] came in the middle of the night and stole my twins. Took them and got their life together. They started training, working with Booker, and next thing you know – because they were working indies while we were working Proactive, and I was just doing the daddy thing. I was going to be, like, the manager or something like that, you know, supervisor, and I was going to work my way up and maybe be a partner with my sister one day – but they were doing indies, and then Eki took them and got them on track.

Then they got the tryout… and now I’m by myself. And now I’m starting to get, like, close to how I am now, just my look and everything. I’m lonely, you know what I mean? I know I’m not doing the right thing. Like, I feel like I’m wasting away. I’m just not taking advantage. I’m not, like, progressing at this point. I’m not being the person that I’m supposed to be.

And I was in my sister’s warehouse installing task chairs, just building the f*ck out of some task chairs. No one builds a task chair like me. Um, and my dad walked in, and he just – he was just being him. He had shades on, walking in, “Hey, son!” And I don’t know if I just made it up in my head, but I felt like he like was looking down on me because I’m just in there building some task chairs, and, like, he made me. He made me, you know what I mean?

And at this point too, like, you know, I was starting to get the old look back to where, like, before I wrestled, before people know who I was, people would still look at me, like… I carry a presence like that, so, like, I would get those looks… “I don’t know who he is, but he looks like he could be somebody.” You know, “Does he play football?” was what it would be, and that would hurt too because I didn’t play football. “No, I didn’t make it.”

But I felt like he was like, “Just build your chairs. Yep, just build them chairs,” like, you know what I mean? I was just making shit up in my head, and then I just looked at him. I was like, “Dad, what do you think if I wrestled?” And he just smiled. He was like, “I thought you’d never ask.” And he left.

He just left… and I just kept building my chairs, and the next morning I got a call from Ty Bailey and then I flew to Tampa and I did my tryout, blew the f*ck up, bruised, the ropes destroyed me. But I loved it because it killed me and it made me almost feel like I couldn’t do it, so it made me want to do it more, you know what I mean?

Cancer is terrible and devastates so many lives and families, but those who beat it always come out the other side stronger. I don’t know Joe Anoa’i, but he seems like an exceptionally strong person. Prayers to him and his, and I know I’m not alone in hoping we see him back on our TVs, even more of a superhero, soon.