Cape Town - Roman Reigns, WWE's biggest active star and certainly its most polarising performer, announced in a shocking statement on Monday night that his real-life battle with leukemia will force him to step away from the ring, effective immediately.
According to CBS Sport's Brian Campbell, the 33-year-old Reigns, real name is Joe Anoa'i, opened Monday's episode of Raw with the reveal that was anything but a storyline or predetermined moment.
WWE's universal champion said he was originally diagnosed back in 2008 at age 22. Though he quickly went into remission, he has been fighting the disease since.
Reigns apologised to the Providence, Rhode Island, crowd for not being the workhorse and fighting champion his character aimed to be.
He also announced he will relinquish the title effective immediately.
"That's all lies and it's a lie because the reality is my name is Joe and I've been living with leukemia for 11 years and unfortunately it's back," Anoa'i said.
"Because the leukemia is back, I can't fulfill my role. I can't be that fighting champion and I'm going to have to relinquish the universal championship. I'm not going to lie, I'll take every prayer you can send my way but I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm not looking for you to feel bad for me because I have faith."
Anoa'i, a former college football standout at Georgia Tech who has appeared in the last four main events at WrestleMania, made sure to let his fans know that Monday would not be his final day in a WWE ring as he delivered the solemn news dressed in street clothes.
"Sometimes life throws you a curveball and the best thing for me to do is to go home and focus on my health," Anoa'i said.
"But I want to make one thing clear: By no means is this a retirement speech because after I'm done whupping leukemia's ass, I'm coming back home. And when I do, it's not going to be about titles and being on top, it's about a purpose.
"I'm coming back because I want to show you all at home and my family and my children and my wife that when life throws a curveball at me, I will choke up and I will swing for the fences every single time. I will beat this and I will be back so you will see me very, very soon."
WWE released a statement shortly after the opening segment:"Tonight on Monday Night Raw, Roman Reigns (aka Joe Anoa'i) announced that he is relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship and taking a leave of absence from WWE as he once again fights leukemia, which had been in remission since late 2008. Reigns is taking his battle with leukemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research in order to advance cures for the disease."
Following Reigns' announcement, Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose joined him atop the entrance ramp. Rollins - with tears in his eyes - and Ambrose stuck out their fists and Reigns joined them in a show of solidarity before the trio hugged.