ESPN's By the Numbers recently interviewed The Rock, and he talked about his relationship with Muhammed Ali. Below is a video clip and an excerpt (via USA Today):
"When I was a rookie in the WWE, 1996, we were at a big function, and no one knew who I was. 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…'
"Cut to 1998, I started calling myself The People's Champion in honor of him. When I was wrestling in Louisville, Kentucky, his family came to watch me wrestle, and I talked to his wife and said ‘please tell Muhammad it's only out of respect that I call myself that. And I'll stop it right now if he doesn't like it.' She said ‘oh no, he loves it. He wants you to call yourself that.'"