Question: Rope-A-Dope Strategy

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Sun Apr 21 17:06:41 UTC 2002

The term dates to the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammed Ali and
George Foreman. Ali spent the early rounds against the ropes in a defensive
posture, taking a series of blows from Foreman. After Foreman had tired
himself out, Ali went on the offensive and beat the exhausted Foreman. It
wasn't a pretty victory or a fan-pleasing strategy, but it was effective. So
to employ the "rope-a-dope" strategy is to feign being weak and on the
defensive, like a dopey boxer who is on the ropes, in hopes your opponent
will exhaust himself in the early going.

Your boxing example has it backwards. It's the guy on the ropes who is
employing the "rope-a-dope," not the other way around. Neither or your
examples accurately describes the strategy as Ali employed it (or as most
people use the term).

Ali coined the term as far as I (and the OED) can tell.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Rick Kennerly
> Sent: Sunday, April 21, 2002 9:18 AM
> Subject: Question: Rope-A-Dope Strategy
> Just finished with the archives and, while I did find one reference, I
> didn't find a definitive answer.
> I attended a meeting last week where a participant used the phrase
> "rope-a-dope strategy".  From the context of the his usage, I
> thought that
> he'd misused the phrase.  However when I mentioned the
> supposed gaff to a
> fellow employee, we had differing views on it's proper understanding.
> Thinking back, I've heard it most often in a political
> context and intuited
> my understand from usage, but I can't find an authoritative
> reference (no, I
> don't have access to an OED).  Anyway, here are the two differing
> understandings we have.
> One version holds to a cowboy theme, as in calf roping and
> goat roping. So
> in this version of usage, in order for our company to employ
> a rope-a-dope
> strategy we would single out and rope in a new, supposedly
> unsuspecting,
> customer before our competitors offered him a better deal, a
> kind of winning
> by being first among the unsuspecting concept.
> The other version adheres to a boxing metaphor where only a
> dopey boxer
> would find himself backed onto the ropes and taking a
> pummeling with no
> route of escape.  In this case, my company's rope-a-dope
> strategy would be
> to keep a competitor so busy in, say defensive legal work,
> that he'd miss
> the fact that we'd surpassed him sales.  In other words, winning by
> diversion.
> Are there other understandings?  Which is correct?  Where did
> it come from
> and when?
> When I've heard rope-a-dope in a political connection, it
> usually has to do
> with one candidate keeping another candidate so busy
> defending a district he
> thought was secure that he didn't have time or money to
> campaign in the
> first candidate's secure district.
> Rick Kennerly

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