WITH THE obvious exception of college football and its computerized BCS shenanigans, sports championships are determined solely by merit. There are established formulas to crown the winners of the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup playoffs and Final Four. A favorite might be upset somewhere along the way, but a really good team can't duck a particularly difficult opponent simply because its decision-makers don't like the way the respective rosters match up.

Professional boxing, of course, is a different animal. It makes for terrific theater when the best go against the best, but a mishmash of independent contractors with their own agendas have no all-powerful commissioner to answer to, which is why Riddick Bowe never fought Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis. NFL commish Roger Goodell and NBA counterpart David Stern probably would have had enough clout to make fights such as those happen, if they ran boxing, and maybe even the milquetoast leader of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, could have nudged the negotiations along.

The megabout everyone wants to see — and has, for at least the last several years — would pair the two men almost everyone considers to be the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. But the squabbling camps can't seem to agree on much of anything, with disputes arising over how the potential $100 million in revenue would be split and drug-testing would be administered. Meanwhile, time goes by and the window of opportunity for making the match shuts a little bit every month. Mayweather is 35 and Pacquiao 33, and each might find they are on the downhill side of exemplary careers if a contractual agreement to settle the question as to who is really No. 1 is not reached soon.

Jim Lampley, the respected HBO blow-by-blow announcer who will call Saturday night's pay-per-view fight between Mayweather (42-0, 26 KOs) and WBA super welterweight champion Miguel Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) at Las Vegas' MGM Grand, knows better than most how disappointing it can be when the most anticipated boxing matches are never waged.

"It puts us on a razor's edge," Lampley said of the fight game's scheduling irregularities. "When you get a fight that exceeds expectations, like Hagler-Leonard, it can be spectacular. It's as memorable as any sporting event can be and people are going to talk about it for generations.

"But when a heavily hyped fight falls below expectations, a la De La Hoya-Trinidad, the disappointment can be excruciating because everyone has waited and waited for it to happen."

As consolation prizes go, Mayweather-Cotto — and the June 9 showdown of Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs), the WBO welterweight champion, and Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs) at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas — are more attractive than most. Were it not for the fact that John Q. Public probably regards each bout as a sort of semifinal, either would get high marks as a stand-alone event.

The only possible drawback is the fallout should Cotto or Bradley, or both, knock off one of the two superstars and remove much if not all of the drama and anticipation tied to Mayweather-Pacquiao. Such an eventuality is not out of the question; Cotto and Bradley are both top-10 talents capable of hanging with most any opponent.

"[Mayweather-Pacquiao] definitely is past its due date as far as the boxing cognoscenti is concerned," said Lampley, whose new HBO show, "The Fight Game With Jim Lampley," debuts on May 12. "We've all waited too long for it to happen. Simple as that. But if it comes off within a reasonable time frame — a year, year and a half — it'll still generate public heat."

Mayweather is coming off a controversial, fourth-round knockout of Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17, a fight in which he was intentionally head-butted by Ortiz, who then tried to apologize. When Ortiz again sought to make amends, dropping his hands and attempting to initiate a hug, Mayweather clocked him with a left jab and overhand right. That might have offended purists, but Mayweather's actions were within the rules that mandate that fighters defend themselves at all times.

Cotto, who is vastly popular in his native Puerto Rico, also is coming off an important victory, avenging a previous loss to Antonio Margarito with a 10th-round stoppage on Dec. 3.

But as formidable as Cotto is, all the numbers point to Mayweather remaining undefeated.

The fight will be shown free at Xfinity Live!

Title up for grabs

Northeast Philly's Tony Ferrante (12-3, 7 KOs) and Upper Darby's Dhafir "No Fear" Smith (25-22-7, 4 KOs) vie for the vacant Pennsylvania light-heavyweight championship in the 10-round main event Friday night at Harrah's Philadelphia.

Smith is a quality replacement for the injured Tommy Karpency. Smith's record is deceiving. He holds a victory over former IBF super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy, and many of his losses, including one to Andre Ward, the Boxing Writers Association of America's 2011 Fighter of the Year, have been against top-flight competition.

Former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe will make a guest appearance at the show, which is being co-promoted by Joey Eye and David Feldman. n