“I was in the air last night flying from Atlanta to London when I got the text from a close friend that within a few hours we were going to lose Muhammad,” Johnson wrote. “Like me, Ali inspired generations around the world to be hungry to achieve, work as hard as you possibly can, to be a great as you possibly can be and make sure that not a day goes by where you don’t do your absolute best to make the world smile and feel good. Feel inspired. And feel that no matter how hard times may be, there’s always hope for tomorrow.”
Referencing the photo he posted of a young Johnson with Ali, the actor recalled, “From hanging out with you in New Zealand as this little punk kid, to years later as a WWE rookie when you whispered to me ‘Can you rumble?’ to a few years later when you bestowed upon me ‘The People’s Champ’ moniker. I will always be grateful for the impact you’ve had on me.”
In a 2014 appearance on SportsCenter, Johnson went into detail about the “can you rumble?” moment.
“When I was a rookie in the WWE, 1996, we were at a big function, and no one knew who I was,” he said (via USA Today). “One of those things where I had my own nametag, ‘Hello, I am Rocky Maivia.’ Ali was sitting down, and I said, ‘I’d love to go over and say hello to him,’ so I went over to him and introduced myself. As I was pulling away he kinda pulled me back in and he whispered ‘can you rumble?’ I said ‘yeah, I think I can…’”
Ali died Friday evening at the age of 74. He was hospitalized earlier in Phoenix, Arizona for reported respiratory issues.