The Jungle Cruise star, who was honored with the tribute at the 2021 People's Choice Awards on Tuesday, Dec. 7, opted instead to credit two of his own heroes with the title: Muhammad Ali and Make-a-Wish recipient Shushan Lazaryev.
Johnson first accepted the award, presented by his "drinking buddy" Jeff Bezos, but informed audiences that he does not consider himself the O.G. People's Champion.
"For those who may know or for those who may not know, the original people's champion was the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali," the former WWE star explained. "I first met Muhammad when I was a little boy and he was so cool to me. He was so kind and he was so funny. He was always wonderful to me."
Johnson dubbed himself the "people's champion" for his a "bad guy" persona in the WWE, but later asked Ali's wife for permission to use the title.
"She said, 'He told me to tell you you are the people's champion, you have earned it, you take that title,'" Johnson reflected. "Years later to be standing here with you guys, you voted me the People's Champion, the irony is not lost on me because I realize that what it means to be the People's Champion is so much bigger than me. You treat people good, you treat people kind. You take care of people. You're inclusive of people, all people, all colors, it doesn't matter."
The Comedy Movie Star of 2021 continued, "The last time I saw Muhammad, we were at a Make-a-Wish event and we were both granting wishes. His last words to me were, 'You keep rumbling.'"
And with that, Johnson invited the 2021 PCAs Make-a-Wish recipient Shushan on-stage. "Being here tonight with us and with you guys, this is her wish. She has no idea I'm doing," Johnson explained. "This is a total surprise. I met her earlier. I told her how proud I was of her story. She is a fighter, she has inspired her family and friends. I want to tell you just how much you've inspired me and everyone around you and certainly everyone here. I want to give you this because you represent everything that it means to be a People's Champion so this is for you."
Johnson cited Ali's famous quote—"The service to others is the rent you pay for the room you have here on earth"—as the reason for giving Shushan the award. The 15-time PCAs nominee and two-time winner then handed Shushan the microphone to give her own unexpected acceptance speech.
Shushan started, "First, thank you for this. I didn't expect this at all. But, I mean, thank you to Make-a-Wish in general. I just never expected that something this good could happen. This is crazy. I never thought that it could end up in this, survive something."
Johnson also dedicated his Comedy Movie Star win to co-star and fellow nominee Emily Blunt earlier in the evening.
To close out the ceremony, Johnson reminded audiences that "it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."
It's clear Johnson is a true People's Champion, with or without the trophy.