Yusuf Can Zeybek Repeats Kırkpınar Triumph

The 30-year-old defeated 2022’s de facto champion Mustafa Taş in a cautious but exciting final that went into overtime.

Yusuf Can Zeybek (via Radyospor on X)
By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 7, 2024 23:19 UTC
Yusuf Can Zeybek (via Radyospor on X)

Yusuf Can Zeybek has defeated Mustafa Taş to claim his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive title of başpehli­van, chief wrestler, at the 663rd edi­tion of Turkey’s his­toric Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling fes­ti­val.

The 30-year-old Antalya native defeated the 2022 cham­pion (while Taş lost the fight, he was later awarded the title after Cengizhan Şimşek received a retroac­tive point penalty) in a vig­or­ous round that lasted 52 min­utes.

According to local media, both fight­ers got off to a lively” start, with Can Zeybek com­ing close to tak­ing Taş down with an early lunge. After this, the fight slowed, and Taş received a warn­ing for being overly pas­sive.

See Also:Traditional Turkish Olive Cultivation Practices Recognized by UNESCO

The match fin­ished after reg­u­la­tion time with Can Zeybek catch­ing the hoop on Taş’s kıspet – the short, leather pants worn by the wrestlers – caus­ing him to lose his bal­ance and top­ple to the ground.

In addi­tion to claim­ing the başpehli­van title, Can Zeybek received the pres­ti­gious golden belt and 550,000 Turkish lira (€15,500) in prize money. Taş received 270,000 Turkish lira (€7,780).

On his way to the final, the two-time cham­pion defeated Mustafa Arslan in the quar­ter­fi­nal match before tri­umph­ing over Hüseyin Gümüşalan, a 2023 semi­fi­nal­ist, in this year’s semi­fi­nals.

In his quar­ter­fi­nal clash, Gümüşalan defeated four-time cham­pion Ali Gürbüz, which pun­dits said was the most excit­ing of the round.

The two wrestlers, con­sid­ered favorites to win the tour­na­ment, spent most of the reg­u­la­tion time mak­ing con­ser­v­a­tive efforts to knock the other over but not cre­at­ing any open­ing for the other.

In the 52nd minute, Gümüşalan found an open­ing, get­ting a grip on his opponent’s kıspet and knock­ing Gürbüz flat on his back.

Meanwhile, Taş tri­umphed over Enes Doğan in the quar­ter­fi­nals before defeat­ing Serhat Gökmen in his semi­fi­nal bout.

While Can Zeybek was not both­ered, this year’s Kırkpınar was con­tro­ver­sial after the Turkish Wrestling Federation announced a con­tentious for­mat change.

The change cre­ated a league-style qual­i­fy­ing for­mat for the tour­na­men­t’s final rounds, which Turkey’s gov­ern­ing body of wrestling said was needed to fit the steadily increas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the event — a record-high 3,500 wrestlers par­tic­i­pated in 2023 — into a sin­gle week­end.

See Also:Listing of Kirkpinar Winners

Both Can Zeybek and Taş qual­i­fied directly for the final stage of the 663rd Kırkpınar after fin­ish­ing among the top 32 wrestlers in the league points table.

Can Zeybek now has the oppor­tu­nity to join the ranks of Kırkpınar immor­tal­ity in 2025 if he retains the title for a third straight year. While each başpehli­van is enti­tled to the golden belt until the fol­low­ing Kırkpınar begins, wrestlers who win three titles in a row keep the belt per­ma­nently.

Only four fight­ers have achieved the feat since 1960, when the golden belt was first awarded. The last time Kırkpınar cel­e­brated a three-time con­sec­u­tive cham­pion came in 1997.

Since then, Recep Kara (2007 and 2008) and Mehmet Yeşil Yeşil (2009 and 2010) have come the clos­est, but each failed to win for the third time. Incidentally, Kara defeated Yeşil Yeşil to become the 2016 cham­pion.


Kırkpınar is widely con­sid­ered to be the world’s longest-run­ning sport­ing event. In 2010, it was added to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

According to leg­end, the wrestling com­pe­ti­tion began in 1357 when a group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near Edirne.

As they waited near the for­mer cap­i­tal of the Ottoman Empire, 40 sol­diers began wrestling to pass the time. After the rest had fin­ished, the final two con­tin­ued their bout into the night, and both were found dead the fol­low­ing day.

There was no win­ner that year, but since then, the event has been held each July, except for 2020, when it was can­celed due to the Covid-19 pan­demic.

Over the past decade, Kırkpınar has become an increas­ingly pop­u­lar tourist event. Hoteliers told local media that they were oper­at­ing at almost full capac­ity through­out the week this year.

Traditionally, wrestlers of all ages, cul­tural back­grounds, and social classes gather in Edirne, engag­ing in one-on-one matches on the grassy fields until one wrestler suc­cess­fully throws the other onto his back.

Despite the for­mat change, the rules remained the same. Wrestlers were doused in olive oil and wore only a kıspet while they com­peted.

The match starts with both wrestlers lock­ing hands and keep­ing their heads close together. To win, a wrestler must pin his oppo­nent onto his back or lift him into the air.

The olive oil makes it very dif­fi­cult for the wrestlers to grip each other, forc­ing them to grab the pock­ets of their opponent’s kıspet.

Wrestlers also claim that olive oil reduces pain from injuries and helps their wounds heal faster. An esti­mated two tons of olive oil are used dur­ing the event.

The oil­ing process fol­lows a spe­cific rit­ual. First, oil is applied to the left shoul­der, chest, left arm, and cuff of one wrestler by another wrestler using his left hand.

Next, wrestlers do the same to the right side of their bod­ies. The final step of the rit­ual involves wrestlers apply­ing oil to each other’s backs.

Olive oil is an essen­tial part of the com­pe­ti­tion, and if a wrestler feels the need to reap­ply oil dur­ing a match, he may request a time­out from the ref­eree and his oppo­nent.

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