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Boxer Muhammad Ali loved to draw between fights and a rare collection of his sketches and paintings is going up for auction in New York next Tuesday.

The 24-piece collection, many of them in cartoon style and some of them signed, reflect Ali’s interest in religion and social justice, but there are also some that picture him in the ring.

“Ref, he did float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” reads the speech bubble from a boxer knocked out by an opponent with his arms raised in victory.

The painting, called Sting Like a Bee, was made by Ali in 1978 during the filming of the historical mini series Freedom Road in which he starred, Bonhams’ auctioneers said. It is expected to fetch $40,000 to $60,000 US at the sale on Tuesday.

This painting, called Sting Like a Bee, was made by Muhammad Ali in 1978. It is one of several artworks by the boxing great that will go on auction on Tuesday. (Bonhams)

Bonhams said Ali’s passion for drawing was little known but he liked to sketch as a way of unwinding after a fight or training.

“A lot of people are excited because no one knew he was an artist and no one knew about this treasure trove of artwork. So we’re seeing a lot of interest and a lot of excitement,” said Helen Hall, director of popular culture at Bonhams.

The works for sale come from the collection of Rodney Hilton Brown, who worked with Ali on his art.

The artwork Let My People Go from 1979 illustrates Ali’s support of the UN’s efforts to free Blacks from apartheid in South Africa. (Bonhams/Reuters TV)

The former world heavyweight champion, who announced his conversion to Islam in 1964 at the height of his career, died in 2016 at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

The Starving Children of Mississippi, from 1967, shows a figure in shorts saying “I only wanted to fight to help feed you poor Black kids.”

“There’s one that references the race riots in L.A. and Newark in ’65 and ’67,” said Hall. “One of the paintings is devoted to Islam. He had just recently converted. And then some of them have a lighter tone and relate to boxing.”

Other works include America: The Big Jail from 1967, and War in America, which has a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 US.