Rope-a-dope is a term for a boxing strategy whereby the fighter spends the early rounds in a defensive posture against the ropes, allowing the opponent to tire by hitting him. So to employ a rope-a-dope strategy is to feign being weak and on the defensive, like a dopey boxer who is on the ropes. Generally considered a terrible strategy because it risks serious injury and because it rarely works, it was used successfully by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in the October 1974 title bout in Zaire, the famed “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali subsequently used it successfully in other fights.

The term was coined by Ali subsequent to the fight in Zaire. Quoted in the Chicago Tribune on 16 May 1975, Ali said:

My new style on the ropes is called the “Rope-A-Dope.”

(Source: Yale Book of Quotations)

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