I still hope Manny Pacquiao fights Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2011.
It's still a natural matchup between the preeminent irresistible force in boxing and its most competitively compelling immovable object. And in spite of blather on one side and recent forays into petty interpersonal crime on the other, I still think it's a challenge both men are eager to tackle.
But it's no longer the do-or-die option it seemed this time last week.
Over nine grueling, punishing and competitively thrilling rounds at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night, reigning 135-pound champion Juan Manuel Marquez established himself as a lighter, less-controversial option that'll do just fine should "Money" opt out for another 12 months.
In fact, by going nose to nose, climbing off the floor and eventually dismantling and stopping a game foe in Michael Katsidis, the 37-year-old Mexican workhorse reaffirmed the very qualities that have made him the streaking Filipino's longest-running and most successful foil in the first place.
While the Mayweather posse and the 24/7 fuel it brings would surely make pre- Pacquiao hype must-see premium cable TV for as long as the run-up lasts, the evidence already provided in 2004 and 2008 might actually make Marquez a more convincing commodity once the bell rings.
Upon forgetting the out-of-ring substance, it comes down to a question of style.
If it does occur, an excellent chance exists that once Mayweather and Pacquiao get into a ring, the bang for the buck will be far more tactical and far less tumultuous than fans paying $60 for a PPV peek are likely to have bargained for.
With tangible edges in both height and reach -- and a well-documented ability to pot-shot aggressive, smaller opponents into oblivion -- Mayweather brings with him the credentials that could reduce a would-be Pac battle royal into a one-sided matador/bull skewerfest.
Lest we forget, its "Fight of the Century" precursor in 2007 was an action- bereft dud.
And its more-recent "I'm the best welterweight" run-through seven months ago was gripping for as long as it took one man to prove he could weather the other's most powerful storm.
But neither a bore nor a mismatch is likely should Pacquiao-Marquez evolve to a trilogy...or beyond.
Though he's four divisions short of his rival's seven belts and a spot or two shy on credible pound-for-pound lists, the principal known as "Dinamita" isn't so far gone when estimating he's actually PacMan's superior despite copping just a draw and a narrow loss in two previous cracks.
It's no mistake, then, the "Marquez Beat Pacquiao Twice" shirt he donned after toppling Katsidis.
"It's very clear I want to fight Pacquiao," Marquez said. "I'll consider any fighter if it's not Pacquiao, but I feel I deserve to fight in the big fights. I feel like a broken record, but Pacquiao, Pacquiao, Pacquiao. That's why I want the third fight. I thought I won the first fight and the second one as well -- clearly."
In the estimation of many, he's right on target.
Out of a possible 36 rounds across three cards in their first bout six years ago, Marquez won 22. Four years later in the second go-round, he won 19 of 36. And of the six individual judges across the two fights -- he won in the eyes of three, lost in two and was even in one.
The effort against Katsidis showed no signs of age-induced slippage.
The more the gritty Aussie came forward, the more he was punished. The more he flung cockeyed right-hand chops toward Marquez's chin, the more he was tagged with precise lefts to the liver. And when it came time for one side's enforced surrender, the other's stock rose dramatically.
Close your eyes and the eight-lettered surname could change.
One man's K-A-T-S-I-D-I-S becomes another man's P-A-C-Q-U-I-A-O.
Sign it, and the sport gets another front-page B-I-G-E-V-E-N-T.
And toward that end, it seems simply a matter of ironing wrinkles.
Given Pacquiao's status as gate-maker and the absence of another seven-figure foe to stoke fires at lightweight, it'd behoove Marquez to swallow pride at the negotiating table with Arum and salute whatever Filipino-designed flag the Top Rank czar offers.
That means agreeing to the welterweight limit, conceding the lion's share of the guaranteed money and eliminating any other hurdle necessary to get the one thing that supposedly matters -- which is getting Pacquiao in a ring for a third and decisive time -- and perhaps setting up a fourth.
Get the fight. Win the fight. And leave the bank account concerns to the accountants.
Do all that, JMM...and the next T-shirt takes care of itself.