As a young world champion, how do you maintain your motivation to keep going in the sport when you have already achieved everything? There may be a certain arrogance about that question, but it's more philosophical, existential, than genuinely feeling better than competition.
It is one of the many questions that Donovan Wisse, 25 years old, will have to answer himself in the coming years. Wisse has been the world champion in middleweight kickboxing since September 2021 and is about to defend his first world title against Portuguese Juri de Sousa on August 20 at Glory 81. If he does that successfully, what comes next?
Warrior Code had the opportunity to speak with Donovan in the run-up to his first title defence about how he looks back on when he first received the championship belt, as well as his role as ambassador for the country of Suriname that he increasingly resembles to grow into. Indeed, Donovan has been living full-time in Suriname again since the beginning of 2020 after having spent a period of 3 years in the Netherlands.
His success has not gone unnoticed by the Surinamese government, who are happy to assist Donovan in the run-up to – and after – the fight to get the most out of it publicly. The target? To further put the country on the international map for himself and indirectly. In that respect, the kickboxer is worth gold for his country because he not only plays an important role internationally with regard to the promotion of Suriname, but also because Donovan seems to be increasingly playing an exemplary role within the borders.
Donovan has been running his own gym with his father for a number of years. A gym that was first located in some warehouse outside the capital, but has moved to the city for practical reasons. In this gym, Donovan trains the next generation of fighters and tries to provide them with the right professional guidance.
The sense of pride it instills in Donovan is apparent when you speak to him about his experiences at his gym and teaching the kids. He describes himself as sometimes a little too emotional, a little too impatient, and also a trainer who can get angry but always has the best interests of the children in mind and wants to lift them to the next level in a positive way. “The point is that I want to teach those children that if you believe in something you can actually achieve it. If I stand in the ring, so to speak, and think: I want this left-right combination to work and I believe in it, then I will succeed. It doesn't matter, and this may be a metaphor for life, which decision you make as long as you stand behind the decision you do make. Do not doubt yourself."
That last sentence in particular seems to make sense for Donovan himself. The kickboxer has spent more or less the entire pandemic in Suriname and told about how he experienced the period as a young professional: “It was a hell of a time. It was a time when disappointment and cancellations followed each other continuously and it actually became a series of disappointments and negative events.”
With those disappointments, the question occasionally came up: "What am I training for at the moment and will this end?" When the year 2021 finally knocked on the door, it felt like a new breath of fresh air for Donovan, bringing positivity with it. A feeling that something special could be waiting in the year 2021. Indeed, the belief that Donovan could take the next step in his career and put all the pieces of the puzzle into place lingered. Donovan was eventually given the opportunity to fight for the world title for the first time in September that year and did so with gusto. He defeated TKTK to claim the world title for the first time when he was 24 years old.
You might expect that every person who wins a world title at that age, sooner or later, will have star allures or be out of step. However, it seems to have had the opposite effect on Donovan. Asked whether he has handled this preparation differently as title holder, he actually admits that his training camp has been longer than usual to give himself time to get into the rhythm and not have to rush the dots.
This is not to say that Donovan has doubts about the outcome of the fight: “Although my team and I have not yet worked on our game plan, I do know that I will exit the ring as the winner on August 20th. I only think about the victory, it doesn't matter how it comes."
Donovan would like to defend his title a number of times in the coming years, but you still feel a certain restlessness. A feeling like that so much has already been achieved at such a young age and how do you maintain motivation for about 15 years at the highest level?
He makes it more than clear that kickboxing is still his first love, but of course he has also seen that guys like Jason Wilnis and Israel Adesanya, who also started in kickboxing, have made the transition to the ultimately lucrative MMA and have achieved success there too.
Donovan also does not rule out the possibility that he will make the same step at some point. He says he's letting this depend on whether he can find the right opponents in kickboxing, which is, of course, an undeniable stretch. As the well-known Dutch saying goes: blood flows where it can't go, so we shouldn't be surprised if Donovan announces the switch earlier than expected.