MIAMI – Floyd Mayweather Jr. spouted off little about fighting Henry Bruseles tonight, but loudly challenged everyone from Oscar De La Hoya to Kostya Tszyu. Through it all, always present, always watching from somewhere in the room, was Miguel Cotto.

Cotto’s turn is coming. And if Arturo Gatti continues to balk at negotiating for a June fight with Mayweather, Cotto’s time could come sooner than expected.

Next month in an 11,000-seat Puerto Rican arena, Cotto returns to action. Among the other things Mayweather said and Cotto heard within the last couple of days is that he’s interested in moving to Puerto Rico. If the two-time former champion gets a move-on, and relocates in time for Cotto’s next fight, he could become a what-might-have-been witness to his own career, circa 1998-99.

Mayweather was supposed to be Cotto.

Instead, he has become Cotto’s validation ticket.

Mayweather will see this a little bit differently, of course. And with good reason.

Thirty-two professional fights without a defeat, and only one of those even close, doesn’t quite do full justice to the depth of his boxing acumen. I have known him since he was 10 years old, covered his three National Golden Gloves titles, attended his Olympic fights, and covered his professional career. He has been too sound, for too long, to discount against Cotto.

But there are so many obstacles in front of him that he can’t possibly determine a career direction until first coming to a complete halt. That basically is what has happened during his career-long 245-day layoff which ends tonight. And it is will happen again after this fight, until resolution of his misdemeanor assault trial next month in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The trial in Mayweather’s hometown was scheduled for Dec. 16, but he didn’t show up in court until 11 days later. He pleaded guilty to contempt, had his bond doubled, and had his trial rescheduled.

That isn’t as bad as it could have been. But now Gatti’s promoter Main Events is looking at Mayweather’s possible 93-day jail sentence in February, then looking at his August felony domestic battery trial in Las Vegas, and questioning how a June fight will work.

Promoting a major pay-per-view event requires time – not doing time.

Mayweather can squawk about Gatti’s reluctance, if that’s what it turns out to be, all he wants. But if Gatti petitions the World Boxing Council and is granted a delay on his mandatory defense pending resolution of Mayweather’s legal situation, a direct precedent exists in Mayweather’s career.

During Mayweather’s entire reign of three-plus years as WBC 130-pound champion, his mandatory contender was Jesus Chavez. But Chavez was under a deportation order and could not enter the U.S. Rather than forcing Mayweather to leave the country to fight.

Chavez, the WBC granted him an ongoing waiver until Chavez’s situation cleared up. Finally, in 2001, in his ninth and final 130-pound championship bout, Mayweather fought and defeated Chavez – the only time he ever faced his top-ranked challenger.

So Bob Arum stood before the assembled media this week, promotionally provocative as ever, and proclaimed this 140-pound era much like the 1980s Duran-Hagler-Hearns-Leonard dynamic. Except those guys all fought each other.

Today’s sensational 140-pound crop includes universally recognized champion Kostya Tszyu (31-1), his next challenger Ricky Hatton (38-0), Mayweather (32-0), and Cotto (22-0).

Gatti (38-6), resurgent recently, has a big following, and adds steam to boxing’s best division.

It all sounds great until the socio-political stuff factors in. Tszyu fights for Showtime.

Mayweather, Cotto and Gatti all fight for HBO. It’s a highly unusual situation that the smaller of the two subscription-cable boxing giants holds sway over a division populated by so many of the larger network’s fighters, but that is the position.

“I would love to fight Kostya Tszyu,” Mayweather said. “If the money's right, I'll go to Russia to fight him. I just want to show I'm the best. But with HBO and Showtime, I know it's going to be hard to make the fight.”

Mayweather’s first order of business is a June pay-per-view fight with Gatti, which is a long, long way from a done deal.

He would like Tszyu after that, unless Oscar De La Hoya wants to rumble. Mayweather still craves that fight, though De La Hoya consistently has remained three weight divisions heavier. But if De La Hoya drops back to welterweight as advertised, they will be separated by just one division and seven pounds.

“It's part of history. My uncle's a two-time world champion, we've got a lot of controversy with my dad and my uncle, two fighters from the same family, one training the Golden Boy (Floyd Mayweather Sr.) and one training the Pretty Boy (Roger Mayweather). It's a fight I think should be made,” Floyd Jr. said. “I know at the end of the year, it's going to be me and Oscar. We've got to get it on. He can't keep ducking and dodging.”

De La Hoya has said on several occasions that he never will fight his trainer’s son. If Mayweather is trying to convince De La Hoya otherwise, you might think he would try a little sweet talking. But that is against Mayweather’s nature, and De La Hoya surely understands why, considering how much time as he has spent with Floyd Mayweather Sr.

With De La Hoya still relatively fresh off his fourth loss, on a body-shot knockout by Bernard Hopkins, Mayweather couldn’t resist a verbal shot to the ribs.

“Hopefully, we can fight at the end of the year, and when me and Oscar fight, he don't quit like he did with Bernard Hopkins,” Mayweather said. “Me being a true champion, I think I'm going to retire undefeated. But if I do go out, I'm going out on my back. That's how a true champion's got to go out.”

So Mayweather wants Tszyu, but television contracts keep them apart.

He wants Gatti, but the legal situation has made negotiations balky.

He wants De La Hoya, but Oscar has taken a firm stance against fighting him.

Cotto can fight Gatti, but why would Top Rank make a fight in which its man gets a substantially smaller percentage of the pie, when it could make Mayweather-Cotto instead?

Gatti-Mayweather is the immediate plan. But Top Rank is taking a close look at this, and seeing this backup solution: Mayweather-Cotto in a pay-per-view clash this summer, instead of Gatti-Mayweather. Then, if Cotto wins, make a pay-per-view mega fight against De La Hoya in late 2005.

“Cotto needs a couple more tune-ups. Right now he’s a little too green,” Mayweather said.

Those words come from a man with few other options if: A) His legal situation puts him on ice; or, B) Main Events uses the legal situation to protect Gatti’s burgeoning franchise from the risk of a Mayweather fight.

First up for Mayweather is Bruseles, a 21-2-1 (13) native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, same hometown as Cotto. Both are trained by Cotto’s uncle, Evangelista Cotto, and they sparred 40 rounds in training camp. Cotto says Bruseles has a chance, but of course he’s going to say that. They have known each other since they were boys.

“A lot of people look at Henry Bruseles as a pushover,” Mayweather said. “I don't look at anybody as a pushover. How do guys get known? They come in and upset top guys. I'm not letting some guy come in and upset me.”

“Henry Bruseles, he's not going to win, but he might fight the best fight of his life. Miguel Cotto, because styles make fights, I might go out there and clip him quick. You never know how the fight game goes.”

You sure don’t. The big design to the next two weeks, with HBO telecasts of Mayweather-Bruseles tonight and Gatti-James Leija next week, is prelude to Gatti-Mayweather. But with Plan A possibly on tilt, Mr. Plan B himself was watching closely here, soaking in the scene which soon will surround him.

Roger Mayweather said he considers Tszyu the true champion, but thinks Cotto actually would be his nephew’s most difficult fight at 140 pounds.

As he watched the buzz circulate, Cotto was asked this week if he considers himself Mayweather’s new chief nemesis. A broad grin crossed his face.

“We’re rivals,” Cotto said. “Mayweather is a star of the sport and we’re in the same company. Mayweather was a great champion at 130 and 135. We don’t know about 140. When the company says the time is right to make the fight, I’ll fight him. I think it's a good fight. I know Mayweather's a great fighter. But I know I can beat him.”