one year ago today, Roman Reigns came to Raw and announced his leukemia, which he has battled for more than a decade, was in remission. The in-ring career he had only begun to build would continue, and his advocacy for research would begin. He had a second chance.
As far as we’re concerned, however, the anniversary is also a time for reflection — not just on what Reigns has done since his return, but what he did before his absence. Whether it’s in the ring or beyond, The Big Dog has always been a powerful figure, a Superstar who spurs inspiration and, yes, passion in all its forms. Here are 10 moments where those qualities shone through the brightest.
The biggest acquisition in SmackDown history (2019)
Last year’s Superstar Shake-up promised the “biggest acquisition in SmackDown history,” and it turned out not to be the Superstar that Mr. McMahon originally had in mind. After The Chairman’s introduction of Elias seemed to underwhelm the WWE Universe, those two powerful chords hit to signal the arrival of Roman Reigns.
The Big Dog’s determination was clear as he marched to the ring, and, once Elias got a Superman Punch, it was Mr. McMahon’s turn. Tom Phillips put it best when he shockingly exclaimed, “He punched the boss in the face!” Reigns then changed the landscape of WWE with the declaration that SmackDown was HIS yard now, making it very clear just who the biggest acquisition in SmackDown history really is. — STEVEN BARILE
Royal Rumble Match victory (2015)
Okay, so you all weren’t nuts about this one. We remember. But in a lot of ways that only made Reigns’ first — and, to date, only, though he’s come close a couple times — Royal Rumble Match victory all the more impressive: Not only did The Big Dog have to outlast 29 other Superstars to earn a WrestleMania main event, he had to win over a skeptical crowd that wasn’t exactly ready to give Reigns his roses.
Through no fault of his own, he didn’t quite hit the second part, judging by the vocal Philadelphia crowd’s reaction. But rewatch the match and you won’t just see a young talent coming into his own, but you’ll see Reigns’ One vs. All mentality begins to calcify into the kind of cold-blooded efficiency that would define the next several years of his career. It’s a master class in both backing up your bonafides and adjusting, on the fly, to a brand-new set of expectations. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in Philadelphia (2015)
And here’s where he did it: Returning to the very same arena that spurned him eleven months prior, Reigns finally earned his first World Title reign of note, defeating Sheamus to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in a bout that disproved nearly every criticism that had been leveled at The Big Dog over the past 365 days. Of course he could wrestle. Of course he could connect with the crowd. (He candidly made nice with Philly after Raw’s cameras went off the air.) And, of course, that title looked good on his shoulders. He’d finally won the big one, and hearts and minds to go with it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Defeats John Cena after a brutal war of words (2017)
Most of the people scoring at home likely awarded the 2017 war of words between Roman Reigns and John Cena to The Cenation Leader. But as all rivalries are eventually settled in WWE, the viral microphone battles shared in the final days of summer that year led to the two Superstars going toe-to-toe in a highly anticipated, WrestleMania-caliber showdown at WWE No Mercy — and they didn’t disappoint. Both emptied their bandoliers, trading their biggest signature maneuvers in front of an electric crowd. But when the smoke cleared, The Big Dog stood tall as the victor.
Reigns’ résumé is littered with significant, career-defining victories, but defeating one of the greatest of all-time in a veritable torch passing moment still stands among the most powerful — believe that. — JORDAN GARRETSON
“This is my yard now.” (2018)
Give Reigns some credit: For all the vitriol the WWE Universe spewed at him over the past three years, he never let himself get so riled up that he hit back. Except, perhaps, once.
Fresh off defeating — and, by all appearances, retiring, though that would ultimately not be the case — The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, Reigns walked down the ramp at Raw to what might be the most hostile reception in the history of the business. Granted, Reigns always received a less-than-warm welcome from the die-hards who saw him as a corporate product, but a win over the sacred Undertaker seemingly erased any pretense that had been left. The crowd lashed out some of the most personal, jaw-dropping and profane insults you could possibly imagine and for about 15 minutes straight, Roman sat there and took it, all the while teasing some grand response. And when he finally brought the mic to his lips, it was to say one thing and one thing only: “This is my yard now.” The boos only intensified from there, but you had to admire the savagery, to say nothing of the self-awareness. For one night, and one night only, he was the villain everyone saw him as. And he loved it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Getting the band back together (2019)
At the risk of being melodramatic, getting The Shield back together required a series of hoop-jumping and make-goods almost no sane Superstar would even attempt, let alone pull off. But there was Roman Reigns, determined to power through bad blood and corporate skullduggery to reform the legendary faction, and damn if it didn’t happen. To be fair, this one wasn’t all entirely Reigns’ doing — it takes two to tango, or, in this case, three. But it was his idea, and we’re glad he had it, as the group that ushered in a new era of the business got to do what they did best one last time. Life’s too short to hold grudges, after all, and while The Shield has never been a sentimental outfit, there was something … nice about seeing them set aside their business, leave some devastation in their wake and finally go their separate ways, justice achieved at last. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
“My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for 11 years.” (2018)
Roman Reigns had made a career out of fighting titans inside the ring. But The Big Dog’s toughest battle would not be contested inside the squared circle. With the Universal Championship slung over his shoulder, Reigns strode to the ring on the Oct. 22, 2018, edition of Raw to reveal that he could not fulfill his duties as champion because he was battling leukemia.
In what was one of the most raw and emotional moments in WWE history, Reigns thanked the WWE Universe for their support throughout his career and vowed that this was not his retirement speech. He promised to fight like never before and return to the ring better than ever. Little did we know just how right The Big Dog would be, and how soon he would show us. – BOBBY MELOK
WrestleMania 35 return (2019)
Defeating Drew McIntyre is a daunting proposition under the best circumstances. Doing so with the eyes of the world watching you, under the bright lights of WrestleMania, in your first match back after a battle with leukemia that resulted in a nearly six-month layoff from the ring, is a downright Herculean feat.
Yet, at WrestleMania 35, Roman Reigns was up to the challenge. The Big Dog had ample motivation to make his comeback a success; Reigns was not only eager to silence those who wondered if he was returning to action too soon and reclaim the yard he spent years making his own, but he was also set on making McIntyre pay for an onslaught of attacks that preceded their clash. In the long list of Reigns’ triumphs, perhaps none tasted as sweet as this one. — JOHN CLAPP
Champion of the Universe (2018)
For years, Roman Reigns had thrown everything he could at Brock Lesnar, but could not conquer The Beast. With Lesnar also in the midst of a 503-day Universal Title reign at SummerSlam 2018, Reigns had a Mount Everest-like climb ahead of him.
When the bell rang, though, Reigns shook off the years of coming up short. He immediately connected with a trio of Superman Punches, followed by three Spears. He battled out of multiple submission holds and survived a trip to Suplex City. Reigns even neutralized a potential Money in the Bank cash-in by Braun Strowman.
Lesnar brought a chair into the ring to finish off Reigns once and for all, but The Big Dog greeted him with a fourth and final Spear, finally conquering the mountain. — JEFF LABOON
“I’m in remission, y’all.” (2019)
Nobody knew what Roman Reigns was going to say on his first Raw back after revealing his battle with cancer. He’s going to be there and he’s going to talk. That’s it. He could have said his leukemia was gone, he could have said the process was ongoing, or he could have come back and said he had months to live. That the news was ultimately not good but great — “I’m in remission, y’all” — was and remains a relief beyond words in a way that is all too real.
We often have a distant relationship with the Superstars we cover here, but something like this tends to close the gap. Almost everyone knows or loves someone who’s had a brush with the inevitable, and we all know not everyone makes it out. Those who do don’t always make the most of that moment. Posturing aside, there’s no denying Reigns’ announcement wasn’t just an immensely powerful declaration in and of itself, but the start of a new phase in his career and life, where he has emerged as a front-line advocate for cancer research. It was the purposeful first step of a second act that thankfully continues today, giving us and many others that much more reason to believe. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
WWE And Roman Reigns Mark One Year Since He Returned From Second Battle With Leukemia
Today marks 1 year since Roman Reigns announced that he had defeated leukemia for the second time in his life.
Reigns commented on the milestone with a tweet and thanked everyone for their support.
“Sharing this life with millions of people is one of the things that makes being a @WWE Superstar amazing,” Reigns wrote. “Life has struggles and setbacks, but the power and prayers of this Universe gave me the strength to fight back. Thank y’all for your support. We got much more to do!!!”
Reigns originally announced on the October 22, 2018 RAW that his leukemia had returned after it had been in remission for 11 years. His first diagnosis came back in May 2007 when he was signed to the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Reigns relinquished the WWE Universal Title on RAW that night and took time off to battle the disease. He then returned on the February 25, 2019 RAW to announce that the leukemia had once again gone into remission. He has been back in action since then.
As seen below, WWE marked the milestone with a Twitter thread looking at various moments The Big Dog has had in the past year: