William Zabka: Johnny's 'trying to make it work' in 'Cobra Kai'

Season 2 of YouTube's "Karate Kid" sequel series is filming now.

Karen Butler
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka (R) talked to reporters at New York Comic Con on Sunday. Photo by Karen Butler/UPI
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka (R) talked to reporters at New York Comic Con on Sunday. Photo by Karen Butler/UPI

Oct.10 (UPI) -- William Zabka, widely regarded as the villain in the 1984 film classic The Karate Kid, says he is happy the YouTube Premium sequel series Cobra Kai shows his character's point of view.

Zabka and Ralph Macchio return as former high school rivals Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso in the critically acclaimed show, which is now filming a second season scheduled to air in 2019.


The first episode has gotten more than 48 million views since it was posted for free online May 2. It takes place 34 years after underdog Daniel defeated big-man-on-campus Johnny in a high-profile karate tournament.

Cobra Kai finds Daniel as the wealthy owner of a car dealership and the married father of spoiled, teenage Samantha, played by Mary Matilyn Mouser, who runs with a trouble-making crowd.

Meanwhile, Johnny is a lonely, unemployed alcoholic inspired to open his own karate dojo after befriending bullied Miguel, played by Xolo Marideuna. Estranged from his own son Robbie, who is played by Tanner Buchanan, Johnny has been described by the show's producers as a combination of Daniel's kindly, former mentor Mr. Miyagi and the grouchy, politically incorrect, 1970s sitcom character Archie Bunker.

Zabka, 52, told UPI at New York Comic Con Sunday that he personally never thought Johnny would end up living in a squalid apartment, swilling beer, repeatedly watching Iron Eagle and driving a decades-old Pontiac Firebird.

"Those things are tasty and great, but I would have imagined Johnny would have been with his old friends and have a successful life and they just took his legs out and set him back and he's still trying to make it work," the actor said, referencing Johnny's most famous line in The Karate Kid -- "I got one year to make it work, and that's what I'm going to do, make it work."

"That's still the theme of his life," Zabka added. "He's still trying to make it work with the limited tools that he has as a person and that were informed by his sensei and the influences around him growing up."

Zabka confirmed that Martin Kove, who played his ruthless sensei and father figure in The Karate Kid, will reprise his role of Kreese in Season 2 of Cobra Kai, but he was cautious about giving away too many details.

"There's love between them, but it is a dysfunctional kind of love, and we will see what happens," Zabka said.

Johnny has always had his defenders, but the actor who plays him said his fanbase has grown as the character has become more sympathetic through both Cobra Kai and the fan-made, viral video "Daniel LaRusso is the Real Bully," which presupposes Johnny was the wronged party in The Karate Kid.

"People are identifying with Johnny," Zabka said. "I get a lot of guys going through similar situations. They're like, 'I'm at home watching the show, drinking a beer and going through my own problems and it's inspiring me and waking me up.'"

The reaction from viewers suggests Johnny has officially transcended his "love him or hate him" status.

"To have a humanity about him that people are relating to is awesome," Zabka said.

Zabka's other credits include the films Just One of the Guys, National Lampoon's European Vacation, Back to School and Hot Tub Time Machine, as well as the TV shows The Equalizer, Robot Chicken and How I Met Your Mother.

The Karate Kid was followed by the Macchio-led sequels The Karate Kid Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid Part III (1989,) The Next Karate Kid (1994,) a spinoff starring Hilary Swank, and a 2010 remake The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith as the title character.

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