LOUISVILLE, Ky. — George Kalinsky was standing on an overpass Friday, waiting for Muhammad Ali’s funeral procession to pass by, when he casually mentioned that he came up with the “rope-a-dope” strategy that led to Ali’s upset victory over George Foreman in 1974.
Wait . . . what? Strange but apparently true, as confirmed by Ali’s late trainer, Angelo Dundee.
Kalinsky, 80, who has been Madison Square Garden’s official photographer for 50 years and was close to Ali, told the story this way:
“In 1974 Muhammad called me and said, ‘I’d like to meet you at 6:30 at the Garden.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ It was an empty night at the Garden. He said, ‘I want to meet you and (public address announcer) John Condon.’ I said, ‘What’s up?’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you when I get there.’
“So he got there at 6:30 on the nose. The Garden was empty. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Let’s go to a quiet place.’ I said, ‘The whole Garden’s quiet.’ So we went to the press room and John and I said, ‘What’s up?’
“He said, ‘In another month I’m fighting George Foreman. He’s too big, he’s too quick, he’s too fast, he’s too young. There’s no way I can beat him.’ And when you think of us alone in the Garden in the press room and you hear those words and you hear the trust that he actually has for you that he’s willing to say this, it was amazing
“In 20 seconds I said, ‘You know Muhammad, you’ve been training for this fight all your life. When you are in the gym with your sparring partners you lean your back against the ropes and you just let them pound and pound against your stomach. I often wondered why you do that. You never punch back. You just let them hit you in the stomach.
“Well, now I know: You were training for the Foreman fight. And what you have to do is lean with your back against the ropes like you do in training and let him punch the hell out of you. And he’s going to knock himself out and then you knock him out. But you have to act like a dope on the ropes.
“Make it look real. Act like really you’re a dope, on the ropes. Make it look like you’re really out of it.”
“And he said, ‘You mean a rope-a-dope.’ No one ever thought of rope-a-dope before that moment. I said, ‘No, like a dope on the ropes.’ He said, ‘Well, I like rope-a-dope.’ I said, ‘Well, first of all, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I have to think about it. John, what do you think?’ John never said a word.
“Then he eventually said, ‘You know, it sounds like it could work.’ He went back to Angelo and Angelo did not like the idea. A week later Angelo changed his mind, and that was the strategy for the fight.”