After an injury sidelined Thiago Tavares from his featherweight debut in Berlin, Backstrom has been picked off the regional ranks to face Finland's Tom Niinimaki on May 31st. The announcement was made by mmanytt.se on Thursday.
Who is Niklas Backstrom?
There's no denying it. If you had to craft a career for a young, developing MMA talent, Niklas Backstrom would be your ideal result. A national champion submission grappler, hailing from the Allstars Gym (home of Alexander Gustafsson) Backstrom will enter the UFC with an essentially unblemished 7-0 record, with 1 no contest. He's fought an increasingly difficult level of opposition with Sergej Grecicho and Max Coga representing the high water marks of his resume. And while he may be a grappler first and foremost, four of his wins have come via TKO.
Not only does he work alongside on of the best light heavyweights on the planet, but with training partners like Magnus Cedenblad, Papy Abedi, Reza Madadi, and Nicholas Musoke, he's surrounded by fighters with UFC experience. Without a doubt, Tom Niinimaki will be his toughest opponent to date, but it's not a challenge he should be unprepared for.
What you should expect:
I wish I could do more than crib Patrick Wyman when he highlighted Backstrom as part of his Search for Future Champions series. But, he really hit most of the strong points. Backstrom has a nicely developed kicking arsenal which is a somewhat typical secondary skill for grapplers looking to dictate range. Where he seperates himself is in his variety of kicks and the confidence with which he throws them. Given his tall frame, he seems exceptionally adept at judging the distance from which he can strike and not get hit in return. Adding to the skill with which he uses his legs at range, is the skill with which he uses them in the clinch. His knees are vicious and his application of the clinch game liberal.
Once the fight hits the ground, Backstrom uses strong posture and positional control to emphasize his ground and pound. For a fighter with his competitive grappling chops, submissions seem to be an entirely tertiary concern (behind control and damage). This is honestly a pretty good sign for his UFC career, as it means he won't be overly reliant on getting submissions against top quality grapplers.