Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake is struttin’ and cuttin’ his way into WWE immortality.
Sports Illustrated has learned that Beefcake is the final member of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2019, to be inducted in a ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.
“This is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work,” said Ed Leslie, who evoked incredible emotion from fans across the world during his 41-year career, particularly during his legendary run as Beefcake. “I’m grateful to the WWE, and I cannot wait for the tremendous honor.”
Beefcake only tasted WWE gold once but played a role in seven of the first nine WrestleManias. Wrestling was not Leslie’s original dream, though. Like many other baby boomers, his childhood dream was to play in the big leagues.
“I always thought I’d be a baseball player,” said the 61-year-old Leslie. “I used to watch wrestling at the armory in Tampa as a kid, and I always enjoyed it, but never in my wildest imagination did I think I could do it. As a kid, I idolized Pete Rose and Mickey Mantle, and I actually played ball with Wade Boggs. Now we’re all Hall of Famers.”
A product of Tampa, Leslie broke into the business in 1977 alongside fellow Floridian and longtime friend Terry Bollea, who later became a worldwide sensation as Hulk Hogan. The two formed a tag team, the Boulder Brothers, with Leslie wrestling as Ed Boulder and Bollea as Terry Boulder.
“I never went to a wrestling school,” said Leslie. “So I learned the basics from the veterans, and that is how I learned my craft. It’s a tough way to learn, but there were people like Ivan Koloff and Mr. Wrestling who took a real interest in trying to help me.”
Leslie has never forgot the sacrifices his elders made for him, and his appreciation for the past remains strong.
“Terry and I were just a couple kids from Tampa living our dream,” said Leslie. “We had sat on the beach for endless days talking about wrestling, and then there we were, living it, working territories in Florida and Alabama with guys like Ox Baker, Bob Armstrong, and Professor Toru Tanaka. They took us under their wing and helped make us into what we became.”
Leslie signed on full-time with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation in 1984, playing a villain from parts unknown named Brutus Beefcake. He was billed as the newest protégé of “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, and Leslie noted that his time spent as a heel served as the key to later explode in popularity as a babyface.
“Learning the craft as a heel changed my whole career,” said Leslie. “The heels are the ring generals and direct the matches, so I learned ring psychology and how to make a crowd respond. That run really prepared me to become ‘The Barber.’”
Beefcake wrestled David Sammartino, with his legendary father Bruno in his corner, at the original WrestleMania in 1985 before joining up with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine to form the Dream Team. Beefcake and Valentine won tag team gold in August of 1985 at the Philadelphia Spectrum, holding onto the titles until they were dethroned by the British Bulldogs at WrestleMania II.
Beefcake partnered with Valentine until WrestleMania III, where he was unceremoniously replaced by Dino Bravo. But Beefcake reappeared in the very next match, a “Hair vs. Hair” affair between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, and he helped Piper secure the victory—as well as lent a hand in cutting Adonis’ hair.
Thus, “The Barber” was born.
“It was a big pretty big challenge to create ‘The Barber,’” Leslie admitted. “At first, I thought, ‘The Barber?’ I had no idea what to do. It was difficult, but I had help. Hogan was the guy who said I should put guys to sleep with the sleeper and then cut their hair. I thought, if that worked, it was going to be very exciting. And it worked big time.”
As “The Barber,” Beefcake worked programs with a litany of legends, including fellow 2019 Hall of Fame inductee The Honky Tonk Man, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, the “Macho King” Randy Savage, and Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig. He helped usher in a whole new wave of personality to pro wrestling, doing so with unforgettable flair as a 6’4”, 270-pound barber.
Beefcake wrestled The Honky Tonk Man at WrestleMania IV and then DiBiase at WrestleMania V, but his crowning moment occurred at WrestleMania VI when he ended Hennig’s undefeated streak in WWE. Yet all that momentum came to a crashing halt in July of 1990, as he crushed his facial skeleton during a parasailing accident that nearly cost him his life.
“My doctors told me I was lucky to live,” said Leslie. “I was never supposed to wrestle again. I was also going through a bad divorce and my parents had just died, so that was a really dark time.
“I took life one day at a time. I had the support of people in the WWE, and I had a good friend in the Hulkster. Terry pulled me from the depths, and he told me I was going to get better. With a lot of support, I did.”
When Leslie returned to the company almost a year later, he hosted the “The Barber Shop” interview segment. The most famous moment of that run occurred when Shawn Michaels superkicked Marty Jannetty then threw him through a barbershop window.
Leslie finally returned to the ring for a major program in 1993, as his real-life friendship with Bollea was captured in a storyline. Beefcake and Hogan teamed up as the Mega Maniacs for a WrestleMania IX tag team title match against Money Inc.’s DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster, which marked Leslie’s final appearance at a WrestleMania.
No matter the role, whether it was as a villain, barber, or talk show host, Leslie embraced every chance.
“I looked at everything as an opportunity,” said Leslie. “I thank my mom and dad for that. Somehow, the little kid from Tampa had this incredible personality deep in him, and, for me, it was just a matter of pulling it out.”
Leslie later starred for World Championship Wrestling. He reached the top of the card in 1994 at Starrcade, losing to Hogan in the main event.
“Terry is the best babyface of all time,” said Leslie. “Right from the beginning when we started as the Boulder Brothers, I had a good feeling that something special was going to happen to us in pro wrestling. Every hill we had to climb, we climbed. Reflecting back on my career, it’s been such an honor.”
The 2019 Hall of Fame is loaded with superstars, including D-Generation X, Harlem Heat, the Hart Foundation, The Honky Tonk Man, and Torrie Wilson. The class is now complete with the addition of one of the WWE’s most recognizable stars in Beefcake.
“I’m filled with amazing joy and happiness to have touched so many lives,” said Leslie. “My 41 years in the ring were an honor and a privilege, and I’m so happy to be joining the WWE Hall of Fame.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.