There was a time when the question Miguel Cotto would be asked most often was whether he would become the next Felix Trinidad, a beloved Puerto Rican boxing icon. It was an irritating question because it meant that Cotto was supposed to follow a path that had already been created.
Cotto, who is from Caguas, Puerto Rico, always diplomatically answered the question by praising Trinidad and saying that he was blazing his own trail.
That question has been replaced by an equally irritating one: When are you fighting Floyd Mayweather?
This particular question is irritating because Cotto, 27, doesn't have an answer. Only Mayweather does. And Mayweather isn't close to providing it anytime soon.
That has left Cotto in a strange position: He is the best welterweight in the sport whose career-defining match is merely a mirage on the horizon.
So what is Cotto to do?
Keep fighting whoever is put in front of him. Cotto has become the welterweight housekeeper until Mayweather agrees to a fight.
To that end, Cotto will meet Alfonso Gomez, a participant on the boxing reality TV series "The Contender" who notched a victory over a faded Arturo Gatti last summer. They'll fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday.
Cotto, who like Mayweather has an unblemished record (31-0 with 25 KOs), does not appear upset by the prospects that a fight against Mayweather is not imminent. He is amused by Mayweather's foray into other entertainment venues like "Dancing with the Stars" and "Wrestlemania."
"That's [something] he has done his whole career," Cotto said. "He runs from the really good boxers and chases other things. I don't know how people in boxing support him as being first in the pound-for-pound [rankings]."
Mayweather, who's 31, argues that a fight with Cotto isn't worth his time right now. He believes Cotto needs to build himself into a pay-per-view attraction and then step forward for a lucrative matchup.
"I'm only going by credentials," Mayweather said. "Now I pick and chose who I want to fight. He [Cotto] is with Bob Arum; he has a boss. Once he goes out and becomes an entrepreneur and makes it worth my while, we can talk."
Therein lies the gulf between Cotto and Mayweather.
Cotto is a boxer who wants to prove that he is the best in the ring. Mayweather already believes he is the best of all time and is only interested in making as much money as possible each time he steps into the ring. It is a gulf that will not be bridged anytime soon.
Bruce Trampler, the longtime chief matchmaker for Top Rank, nurtured the careers of Mayweather, Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya during their tenure with the Las Vegas-based promotion company. Trampler said the fundamental difference between Mayweather, De La Hoya and Cotto is that Cotto will fight anyone without first considering the financial value of the match.
"With Oscar, Bob [Arum], Todd [duBoef, president of Top Rank] and I would have a meeting with Oscar's brother, his father and his trainer, and we'd make these impassioned pleas on who we would like him to fight," Trampler said. "Then Oscar would say, 'Which one makes the most money?'"
"Cotto will not only fight anybody, but if he really likes the fight, he'll poke you in the chest and say, 'I'll fight anybody.' He has that kind of self-assurance."
Trampler thinks Mayweather is the most talented boxer in the game. He also believes that Cotto is the only one with the skills and talent to beat him.
"If I were Floyd's manager, I wouldn't let him fight Cotto," Trampler said.
That may be Trampler's way of dangling bait in front of Mayweather to lure him into a fight with Cotto. But Cotto does represent the only welterweight threat to Mayweather now that "Money Mayweather" has foreclosed on De La Hoya, Zab Judah and Ricky Hatton.
Cotto has shown just enough vulnerability to make a fight with Mayweather very intriguing. He tasted the canvas against DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres. It took him a while to figure out Judah. And he didn't exactly blitz through Shane Mosley. The Mosley fight revealed a side of Cotto that should give Mayweather something to ponder while he's polishing his brass knuckles for the next "Wrestlemania" event.
"He's been very surprising in his last couple of fights; he out-jabbed Zab Judah and he outboxed Shane Mosley," said Steve Farhood, a commentator on "ShoBox" -- the Showtime network boxing series. "If you had suggested those two scenarios to me a few years ago, me and any other knowledgeable boxing person would have said you're crazy. He has advanced from a guy with a good left hook to a complete fighter."
The Mosley fight represented the first time that Cotto was able to turn the tables on an opponent, taking away what he did best and beating him with his own strategy. It showed a level of boxing savvy that Trampler knew existed, but hadn't seen from Cotto since he was an amateur.
Cotto may be the most accomplished amateur boxer in Puerto Rican history. His record was 102-23, and he was the Puerto Rican national champion at 132 pounds from 1997-1999 and the national champion at 139 pounds in 2000. He also made the 2000 Puerto Rican Olympic boxing team, losing to Muhammad Abdullaev in the first round. Abdullaev won the gold medal at 139 pounds. Cotto later avenged the loss as a pro.
"He has a great pedigree. He is a very well-schooled amateur. He was advanced from the beginning," Trampler said. "When he first came to my office, I asked him who his boxing heroes were. He said Alex Arguello, Roberto Duran, guys like that. I told him it took those guys dozens of fights to learn their craft. It bought me a little time to develop him."
Trampler said Cotto needs more experience to be as good as he's going to be.
"Right now he's like a pitcher that doesn't strike guys out, but still manages to get the win," Trampler said. "He is very hard to beat. I don't see a guy out there who can beat him."
Farhood is like most boxing purists: He wants to see a match between Mayweather and Cotto sooner rather than later.
"I don't particularly want to see De La Hoya-Mayweather II; I don't think that does anything for boxing," Farhood said. "I would very much like to see Cotto-Mayweather. It's that simple."
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.