It’s coming.  You can smell it in the air:  March Madness.

There's something about March Madness that is deeply fulfilling to the heart of every sports fan.  Aside from the controversy surrounding which teams are invited to the Big Dance, the NCAA tournament is as fair as it gets.  There are seedings, brackets, and order to everything that occurs.  Also, the concept couldn't be simpler:  the winner goes on, the loser goes home.

Rarely is anything this simple in boxing.  Between promoters, governing bodies, and even the fighters themselves, it is a minor miracle when two elite boxers step into the ring with each other.

But what if it didn't have to be this way?  What if the money-hungry powers-that-be could put aside their motives and restore dignity to the game?  What if fighters made decisions based on pride rather than business, and every fight provided greater clarity to who the best fighter in the division really is?

While boxing as we know it would have to turn on its head in order for such an outlandish concept to catch on, I am going to take this hypothetical scenario even further.  I am going to project what would happen if a tournament could be created to restore legitimacy to the title of “world champion.”  To serve as a subject for this experiment, let's examine the division that is arguably the deepest in terms of talent:  the welterweight division.

In order to keep the tournament as simple as possible, there will only be eight fighters selected to participate.  From this “Elite Eight,” the tournament will take a single-elimination format, with brackets similar to those in the aforementioned NCAA tournament (#1 faces #8, #2 takes on #7, etc.).

While deciding upon only eight fighters from such a deep division was a difficult task, the following fighters were the ones who made my cut:

#1– Floyd Mayweather (39-0)
No brainer here.  As the official welterweight champ, Mayweather rightly earns the #1 seed simply by being the man who beat the man, who beat the man…  As the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Mayweather has been nothing less than dominant in his eleven years as a professional, capturing titles at 130, 135, 140, and 147 pounds.  However, his recent reluctance to confront the best fighters at 147 has drawn sharp criticism from his detractors. Mayweather seems more interested taking part in crossover outlets such as TV’s Dancing With the Stars and, more recently, World Wrestling Entertainment to increase his celebrity status.

#2– Miguel Cotto (31-0)
Cotto has successfully made the leap from 140 pounds to become a legitimate player in the welterweight sweepstakes.  He showed vulnerabilities at junior welterweight, namely against DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres, but his fluidity and maturity have carried him to an unbeaten record after thirty-one fights.  The extra seven pounds at welterweight have anchored his chin thus far, and his body attack is the most brutal in the game.  Just ask Carlos Quintana.  Career best wins against Zab Judah and Shane Mosley in 2007 have made Cotto the biggest threat to Mayweather’s supremacy.

#3– Shane Mosley (44-5)
Perennial welterweight star Shane Mosley snags the number three seed for seniority if nothing else.  Since moving up to the division in 1999, Mosley has been firmly entrenched in the division’s elite, with brief dalliances at 154 pounds interrupting his tenure at welterweight.  Written off after his back-to-back losses to Winky Wright in 2004, Mosley visited the fountain of youth in his knockouts of Fernando Vargas and thorough domination of solid contender Luis Collazo.  A very close decision loss to Cotto last November did nothing to hurt Mosley’s legendary status.  If anything, it proved he still has what it takes at age 36 to rumble with the division’s young guns.

#4– Antonio Margarito (35-5)
After spending years as the most avoided fighter in the division, Margarito finally caught the attention of the boxing mainstream.  At 147 pounds, Margarito is built like a middleweight.  His size, strength, and punching power pose a difficult assignment for any welterweight to handle.  His 2007 decision loss to Paul Williams briefly stalled his career, but he remains a major player in the division.  As an interesting piece of trivia, Margarito is one of the few fighters who can lay claim to punching an opponent’s ear almost completely off his head.  Google pictures of Sebastian Lujan, but avoid doing so before, during, or after a meal.

#5– Kermit Cintron (29-1)
Unfortunately for the tall, sharp-punching Cintron, his career is defined more by his one defeat than by his twenty-nine wins.  In that loss, his was embarrassed by Antonio Margarito in a fight that was simply too difficult for the inexperienced Cintron.  Kermit has since enlisted the help of Emanuel Steward to bring him the fundamental skills he was lacking before.  Cintron’s impressive KO wins over David Estrada and Mark Suarez re-established him as a force at 147, and his scary two-round bludgeoning of Walter Mathysse stamped him as the division’s biggest one-shot hitter.  An upcoming rematch with Margarito will prove if the progress he’s shown with Steward is real, or merely smoke and mirrors.

#6– Carlos Quintana (25-1)
The past two years for Carlos Quintana have been turbulent to say the least.  In 2006, he pulled a huge upset in thoroughly schooling knockout dynamo Joel Julio.  Later that year, he met Miguel Cotto in Cotto’s first fight at 147 and was slaughtered in five rounds.  Left for dead, he surprised many boxing insiders by convincingly defeating the highly regarded and undefeated, Paul Williams.  Always a solid technician, a prepared and motivated Quintana is a difficult load for almost any welterweight on the scene.

#7– Paul Williams (33-1)
At the beginning of 2008, not a seat could be found upon the Paul Williams bandwagon; now, you couldn’t give your seat away.  The truth is that Williams is not as good as many thought he was, but he also isn’t as bad as he looked against Quintana.  The gangly 6’2” welterweight just doesn’t look healthy at 147, though he maintains it is currently his best weight.  Nevertheless, when he is on his game, the perpetually punching Williams defies boxing logic:  a long, lanky southpaw who loves to fight inside, and overwhelms his opponents with volume rather than power.

#8– Joshua Clottey (33-2)
Clottey seems doomed as the division’s odd man out.  He is simply the type of fighter that nobody will go out of their way to fight.  Clottey’s only big opportunity slipped away when he injured his hands in a fight with Margarito, a fight in which he was startlingly dominant until said injuries occurred.  Apparently he made an impression in those first four rounds against Margarito, because the other welters have been avoiding him like a bad one-night stand since then.  A fighter with solid fundamentals, decent power, and a sturdy chin, Clottey is every welterweight’s nightmare:  a very tough fight with very little upside.

This gives us a tournament bracket as follows:

#1 Mayweather
#8 Clottey

#3 Mosley
#6 Quintana

Cotto #2
Williams #7
Margarito #4
Cintron #5

Then we'll have the semis, and finally, the finals. I know, it's a dream world, just play along, OK?

Who do you have coming out on top in the first round matchups?  Who do you think has the best chance to run the table?  For what it’s worth, I’ll offer my picks and breakdowns in upcoming installments to this four-part series.

Let the debates begin…