Muhammad Ali was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Friday, the evening before WrestleMania weekend kicked off.

It is the 40th iteration of WrestleMania, and Ali had been a special guest referee at the first such event, in 1985, acting as a special guest official for a tag-team match between Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Paul Orndorff and Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Ali was inducted by a wrestling legend, The Undertaker, and the fighter’s widow, Lonnie Ali, spoke in acceptance of the induction.

“Boxer, champion, activist, citizen of the world, ambassador of peace – Muhammad lived up to his reputation as ‘The Greatest,’” Lonnie said. “He led by example, a role model and inspiration to us all. He lived his life with purpose and he continues to inspire with new generations of fans.

“I met Muhammad when I was six years old, and he became the love of my life. But, no, he was never my babysitter – that would never have worked. He never learned to cook, but he had a sweet tooth, so it would have been ice cream and candy bars, for sure. But simply put, Muhammad loved people, all people, and they loved him right back.

“And he loved the roar of the crowd. An incredible self-promoter – something he learned early in his career from WWE Hall of Famer Gorgeous George – he became the most famous person on the planet. He belonged to the world. He was a global icon and a showman who transcended sports and entertainment. In fact, it could be argued that Muhammad was the original sports entertainer.

“Muhammad rode the waves in the WWE by punching Rowdy Roddy Piper in the main event of the first-ever WrestleMania. As a special guest referee, Muhammad’s job was to keep order, and nothing brought order faster than his signature straight right-hand punch, better known as the anchor punch. And if he wasn’t throwing punches, he was living up to his well-earned moniker, ‘The Louisville Lip.’ A notorious trash-talker, one of the first in his sport, Muhammad spoke with unwavering confidence and conviction. But as we all know, he could back it up in the ring. 

“Outside the ring, Muhammad used his voice and platform to attack racism at a time when the nation’s black athletes and celebrities were expected to keep their mouths shut.

“Muhammad’s mouth was seldom shut.

“Even during his battle with Parkinson’s disease, which impaired his movement and his speech, Muhammad remained an active and engaged humanitarian and an ambassador of goodwill. He had a real knack of making lemons into lemonade. A man we could all revere, Muhammad was and is deserving of every honor he has received. And I know, he would have been thrilled and honored to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Thank you for honoring him tonight.

“You, the fans, are the reason Muhammad was called ‘The People’s Champ,’ and in 1998 a young wrestler asked for permission to use ‘The People’s Champion’ out of a deep respect and homage to Muhammad’s legacy. Muhammad was pleased and proud to honor The Rock’s request.”

Lonnie then presented The Rock with The People’s Championship, a championship belt, and they left the ring together.