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Roman Reigns opens up about stepping away from WWE in 2020, returning as 'Tribal Chief'

Reigns made the decision to step away for a period of time at the start of the pandemic.
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While speaking to ESPN for a feature story ahead of WrestleMania 38, Roman Reigns opened up about his decision to step away from WWE for a period of time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reigns, who is a leukemia survivor, was scheduled to challenge Goldberg for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 36 in 2020. The show was moved to being a closed-set event from the WWE Performance Center after the pandemic began. When Reigns made the decision to pull himself from the match, Braun Strowman replaced him against Goldberg.

Reigns' wife Galina was also pregnant with twins when Reigns made the decision to step away.

Reigns told ESPN that his conversation with Vince McMahon about stepping away "wasn't a good one."

"We didn't have enough information [about COVID-19]," Reigns said. "We didn't have a proper protocol for protection. I think I made the very smart choice in stepping back and kind of game planning and figuring this thing out and seeing where it went."

Reigns made his return to WWE in August 2020. He aligned with Paul Heyman, won the Universal Championship, and debuted his new "Tribal Chief" heel character. 

ESPN wrote that "both Reigns and Heyman said they might not have returned to WWE unless they were given permission by WWE CEO Vince McMahon to execute this story in a mostly unscripted fashion."

Reigns said that, for him to leave his new house in Florida and his family to return to the road, it had to be something "groundbreaking" and "history-making."

Reigns told ESPN about the "Tribal Chief" character: "I just kept going back to 'power.' I just want to be viewed as the most powerful superstar of all time, when it comes to WWE and sports entertainment. I just really wanted to convey this portrait of strength. Almost like a Mafia-style power. Not only is it respect, but they fear me."

Reigns said that, while a writer does put stuff on paper for him, that doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to use it or even look at it.

"I just knew if I'm gonna make this what it needs to be, I have to be able to connect to it," Reigns said. "And nobody can really write that for me. I have a writer and they do put stuff on paper. But that doesn't necessarily mean I want to use it and/or even want to look at it. So, it just depends. A lot of times I will read it, and if I'm not into it, then I'm just not into it. And I've gotta make it mine."

A winner-take-all match between Reigns and Brock Lesnar will headline WrestleMania 38 night two this Sunday. The Universal Championship and WWE Championship will be unified by the winner of the match.