İsmet Atlı took up oil wrestling, the Turkish national sport, in 1942, but was not introduced to classical styles of wrestling until 1950, when he started his compulsory military service with the Turkish Army. Soon his talent was noticed and Atlı first competed internationally at the 1951 Mediterranean Games and was on the Turkish national team until his 1962 retirement from sports. Competing at both styles of classical wrestling like many other top wrestlers of that era, Atlı was more successful in freestyle wrestling, winning the light-heavyweight Olympic gold in 1960, middleweight silver at 1954 World Championships, light-heavyweight bronze at the 1957 World Championships and middleweight gold at the 1956 World Cup. Besides those medals, Atlı was also fourth in freestyle middleweight at the 1956 Olympics and again fourth in freestyle light-heavyweight at the 1962 World Championships. In Greco-Roman wrestling, Atlı won his only medal, a bronze in light-heavyweight, at the 1962 World Championships, while finishing fourth at the 1953 World Championships and fifth at the 1952 Olympics and 1955 World Championships, all in middleweight. After finishing his sporting career, Atlı worked as a wrestling coach in his native Kozan and also had his own column in a local newspaper, where he wrote about daily political, cultural and sports matters.