Former welterweight champ Keith Thurman brought up the topic of elite fighters who cherry-pick opposition, referring specifically to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, in a recent interview he gave to Fight Hub.
“Yeah [he’s cherry-picking his opponents], but so what? He’s Canelo! The people love him,” Thurman said. “He’s got a huge following. He’s brought tons of excitement. You can say he’s cherry-picked a little bit but he’s kinda learned from the best. He got beat by Floyd and now he’s starting to make money like Floyd.
“Are there greater challenges out there for Canelo Alvarez? Most definitely. Are there fights that I would truly love to see? Most definitely. Are there super talented individuals that might be able to give him problems? Definitely. But does he have to do any of those things? Absolutely not.
“But just because of his status and his stardom he gets to entertain the world in the way he chooses fit, and at a certain degree you just have to respect that, because it takes a lot of hard work and effort to build yourself up to get to that level. So when a fighter finally achieves that level and that status and they want to hold onto it and manipulate the industry a little bit, to me you can be mad, you can be sad, but you’ve got to put some respect on the game too.”
And that assessment of current elite-level cash cow Canelo Alvarez brings to mind the careers of the last elite-level cash cows, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The main criticism of Mayweather throughout the latter part of his career was that he cherry-picked his way through opposition. Critics said he fought opponents who were past their primes or who were showing some real vulnerability. In the case of his 2013 win over a 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez, the critics say he fought Alvarez when the Mexican star was pre-prime and still without a complete, elite-level skill set.
The reputation as an opportunistic cherry-picker has followed Mayweather well into his retirement and, for many, still taints his reputation.
When it comes to Pacquiao, he also has his critics who say he cherry-picked his way through much, if not all, of his run at lightweight and above.
Critics will point to his decision to fight David Diaz, considered a fairly weak world champion at the time, as a safe choice for a lightweight title fight. They’ll also point to a weight-drained, post-prime Oscar De La Hoya as an ideal low risk-high reward opponent for his welterweight debut. They’ll even make a case that some of the biggest names on his post-2008 run were stylistically tailor made for him, like Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Brandon Rios, and Keith Thurman. The critics could also find plenty of names of fighters on Pacquiao’s resume who were past their primes and/or just completely overmatched when they fought Manny.
Admittedly, the case for Pacquiao being a cherry-picker is harder to make than for Mayweather. Many of the Filipino icon’s opponents were legitimately regarded as threats to him before their bouts. A cynic, however, could attribute that to clever matchmaking– finding big names that present danger in theory only– with the very savvy Bob Arum handing the opponent selection as his promoter for much of his career.
There’s a strong case to be made, though, that every fighter at the highest level of the boxing business is guilty of cherry-picking to some extent.
It only stands to reason that with so much to lose, a lot of risk vs. reward assessment goes into finding opponents.
As Thurman pointed out, nobody simply appoints fighters to be elite-level mega-stars. It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level and when they achieve king-level status, they will use the power they’ve earned to call the shots in their career. Boxing, after all, is a business.