By Chuck Carroll
(CBS NY/CBS Local) — When Roman Reigns stepped through the curtain Monday night, he was met by an unfamiliar sound. It was heartfelt applause stemming from a place far deeper than just a desire to cheer for one of the good guys on TV. Absent was the chorus of boos to drown out cheers from his allegiance of fans.
On this night, not a single detractor could be heard among the thousands of members of the WWE Universe who had gathered in Atlanta. On this night, the Big Dog was universally beloved.
Thunderous chants of “welcome back” reigned down from every corner of the arena. The prolonged cheers delayed his first live remarks since the fateful night last October, when he announced that he was relinquishing the Universal Title and walking away from the ring to battle leukemia for the second time in his life. Reigns hadn’t said a word on WWE TV in more than four months, so what was another few minutes?
Finally, 10 minutes into the live broadcast of Monday Night RAW, he could speak.
“I’m probably going to say this a lot, but I’m going to start out by saying ‘thank you,’” Reigns began.
Fittingly, some in the crowd began chanting “you are welcome.”
The WWE Superstar who has clawed his way to the top of the sports entertainment world and built a reputation as a fearless competitor then made an uncharacteristic confession. Thinking back to last fall, the powerful Samoan confessed to being terrified and insecure prior to revealing to the world his cancer had returned after being in remission for 11 years.
“So many people prayed for me that God’s voicemail was full,” he said. “That is how strong it was to be surrounded by y’all’s love and grace… I can do anything with that type of strength and love.”
His words, coupled with the writing on the black tank top that adorned his still muscular body, hinted at what was to follow: We Fight. We Overcome. We Believe.
“When I made my announcement, I said I was going to swing for the fences. We did better than that,” Reigns continued. “We didn’t just swing for the fences, we hit a home run. I’m so grateful, so humbled, and so honored to announce this. The good news is I’m in remission. So with that being said, the Big Dog is back.”
The crowd erupted, giving the once controversial former champion another undivided standing ovation, as deafening chants of “welcome back” again echoed throughout the arena.
His response was equally heartfelt.
“Thank you so much. I love y’all,” he replied.
Even before Reigns was able to deliver the uplifting update, some in the audience were calling for him to declare an opponent at WrestleMania. Without missing a beat, he paused and smiled, then said that he first had to crawl before he could walk and then walk before he could run. Of course that will do little to quiet the speculation that his Mania future will soon become clear.
There doesn’t appear to be a path for him to challenge for the Universal Title that he was forced to give up due to the cancer diagnosis, as Royal Rumble winner, Seth Rollins, is set to challenge current champion, Brock Lesnar. However, as of now, Daniel Bryan’s dance card and a shot at the WWE Championship seem wide open. In recent weeks, there had been speculation that Bryan would be facing an unnamed returning Superstar. Many assumed that the mystery man would be revealed as John Cena, Bray Wyatt or Kevin Owens. But with Monday’s announcement, the door is open for Reigns to lay the smackdown on the devilish vegan and make the jump to Tuesday nights. Looking ahead, his presence on SmackDown can only help shore up slumping ratings and bolster viewership, as the show prepares to move to a new network in the fall.
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In the more immediate future, the door has been left open for a potential reunion of The Shield, the faction that launched Reigns’ career in WWE and cemented his status as one of the promotion’s top stars. The returning champion and Rollins ran to the ring to save an outnumbered Dean Ambrose from a three-on-one beatdown at the hands of Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin and Drew McIntyre. As storylines go, there will need to be some fence-mending before that can happen after WWE controversially decided to have Ambrose turn on Rollins on the same night Reigns announced the reemergence of his cancer. As of now, none of the men have a match scheduled at the upcoming Fastlane pay-per-view on March 10.
But as Reigns said, that is to be determined down the line. For now, we celebrate more than the return of a wrestler. We celebrate a father who has devoted countless hours to improving the lives of thousands of others battling life-threatening illness and has himself beaten leukemia back into remission.
Welcome back, Roman. You were missed.
News & Notes
The other big news coming out of Monday’s show was the return of Dave Bautista. The Guardians of the Galaxy star brutally beat down Ric Flair, spoiling The Nature Boy’s 70th birthday celebration and appearing to set the wheels in motion for a showdown with Triple H at WrestleMania.
The triple threat match between Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch for the RAW Women’s Championship at WrestleMania also took a step forward Monday. As part of the storyline, Lynch was arrested for defying orders and showing up to attack Rousey despite her ongoing suspension. Rousey then left the title in limbo by seemingly relinquishing it after Stephanie McMahon declined to sign off on the match.
>>MORE: Is Ronda Rousey Leaving WWE?
WWE Hall of Famer Tammy “Sunny” Sytch has run afoul of the law yet again. The 46-year-old is now facing charges of driving while intoxicated after being arrested in Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday evening. Authorities are also levying charges of driving on a suspended license, failing to stop at a stop sign, having an open container of alcohol in the car, reckless driving, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, and careless driving, according to multiple reports. Police say Sytch also had outstanding traffic warrants in Holmdel, NJ, which is less than an hour away. PWInsider’s Mike Johnson is reporting that officials in Pennsylvania filed to revoke her parole prior to the most recent arrest. She spent much of 2018 incarcerated in the state following multiple arrests for DWI.
WWE Hall of Famer Arn Anderson has been fired from his backstage role as a producer for the company. Anderson had been butting heads with Vince McMahon, which led to his ouster according to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer. An original member of The Four Horsemen, Anderson was not present for Ric Flair’s 70th birthday celebration on RAW.
Tye Dillinger and Hideo Itami have both requested and been granted their releases from WWE. There is some speculation that the former will eventually join AEW.
Former WWE Cruiserweight Champion TJP has also been let go by the company for disciplinary reasons, according to Meltzer.
Tickets to Ring of Honor’s debut in the Pacific Northwest will go on sale for Honor Club members on February 27 and to the general public on March 1. ROH will run in Kent, Washington on June 1 and Portland, Oregon on June 2.
ROH Women of Honor Champion, Mayu Iwatani, will defend her title against Kelly Klein at the ROH 17th Anniversary pay-per-view on March 15.
The Young Bucks vs. Lucha Bros is now official for AEW Double of Nothing on May 25.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.