What is a (the?) "rope-a-dope?"

The title says it all. I know it has something to do with boxing, but what exactly is it?

It was used to refer to Muhammad Ali’s footwork, IIRC.

Its when you let your opponent wear himself out throwing punches and then beat you the hell out of him.

Actually, it was the tactic by Ali that he used against Forman(?) where he let Forman hit him in the early rounds and just covered up, conserving his energy without suffering too much. Forman got exhausted and in the later rounds Ali turned it on and knocked him out.

Ali used the technique for the first time, if I recall, in his fight with George Foreman in Zaire. If you can find the movie When We Were Kings, you’ll get to see it in action, and a lot more good stuff.

The “rope” part came into play when Ali just leaned back against the ropes. This conserved his energy, allowed some of the force of Foreman’s blows to be absorbed by the ropes and just kept Ali from falling down.

It was completely against the classic Ali “Float like a butterfly …” strategy in that he basically moved very little. So footwork had nothing to do with rope-a-dope.

George Foreman is one of the greatest fighters ever in terms of raw power. He took out Frazier in no time, which Ali could never do. But Ali had strategy which Foreman never had. (Except when it comes to hawking wares.)

It’s pretty much as described by previous posts. Ali held his gloves and arms up high, leaned back against the ropes, and didn’t give Foreman a good target to score points against. Foreman wore himself out swinging wildly and never connecting to the head or body, basically just becoming very frustrated and tired, so that by the middle/late rounds, when Ali started really moving and throwing punches, Foreman had already worn himself out. It was a strategy developed by an aging fighter past his prime, and it worked.
Leon Spinks, however, found the key to beating the rope-a-dope. Everytime Ali went into that stance, Spinks pounded on Ali’s arms and shoulders and soon Ali’s arms were so bruised and battered that he couldn’t throw punches when he needed to and was unable to keep his guard up, so Spinks stepped in and took advantage and beat him.