LAS VEGAS, July 7 – There was a time, when my brain was as nimble as my brawn, a time I could make up lists like the ten greatest Italian operas or the ten sleaziest personalities in boxing or my favorite George Bush jokes. Alas, I am reduced now to that oldest of argument-stirring devices needed by a columnist who doesn’t feel like working too hard: the pound-for-pound list. Remember, though, don’t tell me where and why you disagree. Take it to the TSS Forum.

I write this knowing that there are two fights this weekend that could influence, or emend, these rankings. Tonight, from Phoenix on ESPN2, we get the privilege of a Joel Casamayor sighting. The Olympic and pro champion from Cuba is now 34, and who knows how much he’s slowed since losing a hard-fought match to Jose Luis Castillo and having a draw with Kid Diamond. He’s facing Lamont Pearson, who’s even older and has never approached Casamayor’s heights, but who could knock the southpaw completely out of my top 25 just by making it close.

Casamayor is No. 17 going into tonight’s bout. Roman Karmazin and Cory Spinks are unlisted, but their contest tomorrow night in St. Louis for Karmazin’s junior middleweight title could catapult the winner to a place of honor. Karmazin won his title against one of my up-and-coming pound-for-pounders, Kassim Ouma, last year. I did not move him into the rankings, though, since I knew from Eric Bottjer, one of the most astute boxing minds in the world, that Ouma was ailing. Bottjer, who just signed to be matchmaker for DRL (a combination, I’m sure that will be busy, heading by Dan Wise, Roberto Duran and Luis DeCubas), was working then for Don King and “spying” on Ouma. He told me he saw the African throw up after the workout and heard that he and a few members of the camp had been suffering from an illness. Therefore, I didn’t consider that Karmazin’s victory was over the “real” Kassim Ouma.

However, if he could beat Leon’s son, and Michael’s nephew, in Spinks’s home city of St. Louis, I might have to reconsider. Spinks had been in the ratings until he was stopped by the best Zab Judah there ever was in their rematch. The Next Generation had already beaten Judah and also holds a welterweight unification victory over Ricardo Mayorga. If the long rest has truly refreshed him, he might soon be back among the elite.

No. 1 – For the moment, though, I’m sticking with Floyd Mayweather Jr. at No. 1. What’s more, the “Fraud” movement – akin to the old Roycott ranters – I believe will come crashing down when the Pretty Boy finally stops beating up second-class citizens and goes after the overrated Antonio Margarito. I believe Mayweather, coming off his breakdown of Zab Judah, needs to fight someone “real” in his fall appearance and Margarito now makes the most sense – unless Sugar Shane Mosley again beats Fernando Vargas and can cut a deal that gives Pretty Boy the same money he might expect from a Margarito fight.

Mosley, of course, would be entitled to a greater share of any purse than Margarito would. After all, Margarito may be a tough guy, but he’s never beaten any one remotely of the caliber of Mosley’s opponents – including of course two victories over Oscar de la Hoya. Negotiations with Mosley would be rather difficult so perhaps Margarito, who would be getting a much smaller share of a Mayweather purse, might be the easier choice.

The Fraudulent Folk think Mayweather is reluctant to fight Margarito because of the size difference. It should not be news, though, that Mosley is bigger and stronger than Margarito and knows a bit more about boxing. What I think is really holding up this fight being made is Bob Arum, who has been bought out as Mayweather’s promoter and has since berated his former charge as being afraid of Margarito. Arum says he’s offering $8 million to the Mayweather camp. I’m not sure Mayweather couldn’t do almost as well by hiring a neutral promoter, just so Arum doesn’t control the bout. Where is Dan Goossen?

No. 2 – If Mayweather turning down $8 million for Margarito seems cowardly, what should we make of Winky Wright turning down half as much for the same opponent? Wright is still my No. 2, pound-for-pound. He either beat Jermain Taylor or was held to a draw. He did not lose, though. And he’s bigger than Margarito. If he could make 154 pounds, he’d have a size advantage over the 147-pound WBOgus champion. It is almost impossible to imagine Margarito beating Winky, so $4 million – which would be his biggest purse – seems almost like charity. Maybe he doesn’t want to fight for Arum, too. But if I were his management – if he has any – I might reconsider. Certainly, Margarito would be a nice tune-up for either a rematch with Taylor, one of the so-called middleweight titleholders, or a move up to 168 for Joe Calzaghe.

In any case, I can not lower Wright for a draw with Taylor in the champion’s hometown suburbs, not when most of the ringsiders I respect had the Wink winning clearly.

No. 3 – But gaining on the top two is Manny Pacquiao, who this year avenged his loss to Erik Morales with a dominating ten-round knockout, and is coming off an impressive performance against tough Oscar Larios. The Pac Man seems to be getting better and better the longer he is with Freddie Roach and with the rubber match coming up in November against Morales should close the year no lower than third.

No. 4 – One of the reasons for Pacquiao’s lofty status, of course, is his demolition of Marco Antonio Barrera. The great little Mexican may be starting to slide, witness the trouble he had with game Rocky Juarez, but I’m going to leave him up here. I thought he won that fight and I was again impressed with that championship quality of being able to dig down when necessary.

No. 5 – Okay, we knew he was good and maybe Jeff Lacy was highly overrated, but the job Joe Calzaghe did in one of the greatest beat-downs of the year was eye-popping. Just wish he would stay healthy enough to offer us repeats. Now he says he’s probably going to retire after three or four more bouts – just when he’s become interesting.

No. 6 – I cannot ignore Jermain Taylor any longer. I’m not sure he wasn’t 0-3-0 in his last three fights instead of 2-0-1, but anyone who can be that close to Bernard Hopkins twice and Winky Wright must have real quality. He still hasn’t mastered boxing. Nobody’s perfect.

No. 7 – Okay, I’m nostalgic. For one last time, Bernard Hopkins returns to the top ten. Look, I wasn’t surprised by his domination of Antonio Tarver. I thought the 37-year-old former light-heavyweight champion was much older than the 41-year-old former middleweight champion. But Hopkins, newly sculpted by Mackie Shilstone (who maybe should get some trainer of the year votes), looked Billy Crystal fabulous. Enjoy retirement, Bernard.

No. 8 – Having escaped Bob Arum, maybe the little dynamo Rafael Marquez can resurrect his career before it’s altogether too late. The man beat Marc Johnson, when Too Sharp was in my top ten, and stopped Tim Austin, ditto. Please, let’s see him in real fights against real opponents.

No. 9 – Diego (Chico) Corrales hasn’t fought this year and is coming off the knockout by Jose Luis Castillo when the playing field wasn’t level. I can not punish him for this, but he desperately needs to meet and beat a live opponent if he expects to remain top ten.

No. 10 – Losing isn’t everything on my list. Erik Morales, despite the beating he took from Pacquiao, remains for past distinguished service. In November, he could be facing retirement.

No. 11 – Ricky Hatton had the anticipated trouble with Luis Collazo and maybe 147 is a bit too much for him. At 140, though, he deserves his high ranking. Would love to see him fight No. 1, but I think he’s smart enough to look for some easier money first.

No. 12 – Jose Luis Castillo can’t beat the scales, but sight unseen, I believe he still can fight a bit. Trouble is, at what weigh? At welterweight, he may be small fish. At 140, perhaps he can make the same kind of splash he did at lightweight.

No. 13 – With Antonio Tarver’s demise, I believe the old Road Warrior, Glen Johnson, is now the king of the light-heavyweights. It may not be much of a realm, but at least there’s real class at the top.

No. 14 – Chris John. Not many of us have seen him and maybe his points victory at home in the Indonesia jungle over Juan Manuel Marquez was questionable, but all reports say he can really fight. Like to see a Marquez rematch some place neutral – like Las Vegas.

No. 15 – The first of a group of super superflyweights, Martin Castillo, is coming off a split decision victory over Alex Munoz and has a defense coming up later this month in Japan. He fights and he fights often and while not the greatest puncher in the world, he is fun to watch.

No. 16 – Juan Manuel Marquez may be declining and not simply because he’s been mismanaged by Nacho Beristain. He needs a meaningful victory or two to at least set up a rematch with Pacquiao, with whom he gained an undeserved draw (that’s my opinion, of course, but of course I’m right). Next time, the Pac Man will knock him down four times in the first round.

No. 17 – My man Joel Casamayor. I thought he definitely beat Acelino Freitas and that his losing rematch to Diego Corrales could have gone either way. As far as I’m concerned, the only guy that clearly beat him was Jose Luis Castillo. I hope he still has lots left.

No. 18 – Sugar Shane Mosley, I believe, is really a welterweight trapped in the 154-pound division with a lucrative rematch against Fernando Vargas. Mosley might have been lucky in his first meeting with Vargas because of the grotesque swelling around El Feroz’s left eye, and the rematch next week may be tougher, but I still think at 147 he might be the best bet against Mayweather. Imagine that fight at 135 a few years ago.

No. 19 – Miguel Cotto may show some big-league flaws, but love his calm demeanor, his ability to turn a round around with one body shot and his warrior mentality. If he’s moving up to 147, would be nice to see him against the Carlos Baldomir-Arturo Gatti winner, then if he gets by that, Jose Luis Castillo.

No. 20 – He has moves like Sugar Ray Leonard and now the question is whether Joan Guzman can carry his power with him from 122 to 130. It will be fun to watch.

No. 21 – There’s an old trick used by managers and promoters. Call out top-flight opponents often enough until the public begins to think your guy is in the same class. Bob Arum has made Antonio Margarito a lot bigger than the Tijuana native deserves by just such a tactic. In his most recent fights, Margarito has beaten guys Manuel Gomez, Kermit Cintron, Sebastian Andres Lujan and Hercules Kyvelos, while losing to Daniel Santos and Arum says this is the best welterweight in the world? Yes, he’s tough, but his punches are wide and believe me, Sugar Shane Mosley should be a 3-1 favorite against him.

No. 22 – Jhonny Gonzalez’s parents may not be able to spell – so what’s the excuse of Jhonny Peralta, the Cleveland shortstop? – but their kid can flat-out fight. After beating Fernando Montiel, one of those terrific super-flies who moved up to 118, Jhonny has his guns set on Rafael Marquez.

No. 23 – Fernando Montiel. Losing to Jhonny should not detract from a possible matchup with Martin Castillo.

No. 24 – Alex Munoz has lost two close decisions to Martin Castillo; maybe he should try someone like Montiel.

No. 25 – Because this is pound-for-pound, the arithmetic favors Jorge Arce at 115 pounds over Jeff Lacy at 168. So does the recent record. Arce, stepping up from 112, next fights South Africa’s talented Masibulele (Hawk) Makepula for a 115-pound title. Welcome to the club.

PENTHOUSE: Eric Bottjer, one of the game’s good guys, landed on his feet after Don King Promotions, in an economy move, let the matchmaker go. He’s now with the Florida-based DRL…Love Roman Karmazin’s line at St. Louis press conference about his fighting in Cory Spinks’s hometown: “Behind me,” said the Russian, “I have an entire country and three kids.”

OUTHOUSE: I see Edwin Valero, banned in this country after an MRI showed a spot on the brain, continues to flaunt American rules and is now fighting for a WBA title in Panama. If Joe Mesi had done something like this, he’d have been boiled in ink.