Popular wrestler Roman Reigns has announced that he is stepping away from the ring due to leukaemia.

Speaking during an episode of Monday Night Raw, the 33-year-old revealed that he was first diagnosed with the disease in 2008, but had been in remission. However, he said the leukaemia has since returned, meaning that he has had to give up his universal champion title belt.

My name is Joe and I’ve been living with leukaemia for 11 years and unfortunately it’s back,” Reigns, whose real name is Leati Joseph Anoa’i, told fans at the event in Providence, Rhode Island. “I can’t be that fighting champion and I’m going to have to relinquish the universal championship.”

Reigns, a former American football player, has been one of the major figures in WWE in recent years, appearing in the main event at the past four editions of WrestleMania and holding the heavyweight championship on three occasions. He has long been tipped as the next “face of the company”, following in the footsteps of Hulk Hogan and The Rock.

Reigns’ announcement was greeted with messages of support from fans and wrestling stars. “You have given us your everything including a courageously vulnerable moment. We, your WWE family, give you all of our love and support,”wrote wrestler and actor John Cena

Despite his diagnosis, Reigns said that he did not plan to make his absence from wrestling a permanent one. “I want to make one thing clear: by no means is this a retirement speech because after I’m done whupping leukaemia’s ass, I’m coming back home,” he said.

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