In boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts, there is this interesting way of competing for bragging rights called the lineal championship. Basically, it is a non-physical title that is passed from a reigning champion to any fighter who beats him/her, signifying the fighter is "the man who beat the man".

It is a process that continues from one challenger to another until the champion loses the title, which then restarts the whole cycle.

The novelty of it has since inspired some football fans to apply a similar concept, which is why Peru are the unofficial world champions and Manchester United are the current team to beat (both at the time of writing). So, hypothetically, who would be the current holders in the Malaysian Super League? Well, firstly we need to establish some ground rules.

1) The first lineal champions would be Perak, who won the final Malaysian Premier League 1 season before the Super League was formed in 2004.

2) A lineal title match can only take place as long as it involves the holders in the Super League, so no title exchanges in the Premier League, FAM League, FA Cup, Malaysia Cup or any other domestic or international competition.

3) If a title match ends in a draw, the holders retain the title.

4) The season-ending lineal champions will defend the title in the following season.

5) If the holders are unable to defend their lineal title due to relegation, withdrawal or dissolution, a title match between the proper league champions (of the previous or current season, depending on which comes first) and the last proper challenging team will be held to determine the new holders.

6) If a lineal title match’s result is voided due to any infringement highlighted by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), the title will go to the offended team.

With the trivial stuff sorted out, here we go.

Toni Netto’s Perak began their title defence with a five-game unbeaten run before losing 1-0 to Pahang on May 14, 2004, but they retained it with a 3-2 win on July 3, 2004. The title then continued to change hands among Super League teams – some did not even manage to hold it for more than one game – until it reached a slightly dicey situation on the final day of the 2005-06 season when champions Melaka Telekom were no match for MPPJ, losing 3-0.

If you remember, the Black Widows did not participate in the 2006-07 season and were dissolved shortly afterward. So, as per abovementioned Rule #5, Telekom had a shot to regain the lineal title by going up against Negeri Sembilan, who won the Super League in the previous season, on May 19, 2007 (almost one whole year since the last title match). Thanks to goals from Zainuddin Ariffin, Efendi Abdul Malek and Chaswe Nsofwa, they beat the Niners 3-1 to be crowned winners again.

Fast forward to a little over 10 years later, JDT have won their fourth straight Super League title, but the season-ending lineal champions are Felda United, claiming the honour after defeating PKNS on the final day of the 2017 season. To give you a clearer picture, here are the last five times the title changed hands.
July 11, 2017Sarawak1-3Felda United
July 22, 2017Felda United0-1Perak
July 27, 2017Perak1-2JDT
August 5, 2017JDT0-1Selangor
September 20, 2017Selangor1-2PKNS
October 28, 2017PKNS2-4Felda United

And here are the all-time winners to date since 2004.
2004PahangPublic Bank
2005-06Negeri SembilanMPPJ
2012KelantanFelda United
2015JDTFelda United
2017JDTFelda United

Although the Southern Tigers did not win it this year, they had the honour of winning both Super League and lineal titles at the end of a season in 2016, just like Perlis (2005) and Selangor (2009) did.

Other interesting notes, at the time of writing, are Perak held the lineal crown the most times (11), nine-time winners Selangor had the most successful title defences (31 wins, five draws, nine losses), and Felda ended the most seasons (three) as the top dogs.

In the end, this is nothing more than an interesting observation, but when your team take the field next time (especially the first team to face the Fighters next season), keep in mind there might be more than just three points on the line.

UPDATE @ 5 December 2017: Following Felda's relegation to the Premier League, based on Rule #5 again, JDT and PKNS will duke it out for the lineal title in the 2018 season.