be on the ropes

be on the ropes

To be in a vulnerable position and nearing failure or collapse. The phrase comes from boxing, in which a boxer may use the ropes around the ring for support. That team is definitely on the ropes—they're losing 10-1! Now that everyone knows he embezzled money from the company, his career is on the ropes.
See also: on, rope

on the ropes, to be

To be on the brink of collapse or ruin. The term comes from boxing, where a fighter who is on the ropes surrounding the ring is in a defenseless position, often leaning against them to keep from falling. It began to be transferred to other catastrophic situations about 1960. A Boston Globe article used it in 1988: “He acknowledged that the Dukakis campaign was on the ropes.”
See also: on