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In a world that’s craving nostalgia like few generations before it, few pieces of pop culture encapsulate this more than Cobra KaiThe series, which started on YouTube TV but moved to Netflix, tells the continuing story of The Karate Kid’s Danny LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. These characters, played by Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, respectively, make perfect rivals whose hatred for each other drives them. However, their offscreen relationship couldn’t be more different. 

The slow burn

Ralph Macchio and William Zabka attend the #IMDboat at San Diego Comic-Con 2019: Day Two at the IMDb Yacht on July 19, 2019, in San Diego, California.
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka of the Netflix hit ‘Cobra Kai’ | Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

The Karate Kid was an unlikely hit in 1984. As Den of Geek recounted, the film told the story of a boy named Daniel LaRusso trying to make a name for himself in a new city. Ralph Macchio played Daniel from the get-go, and with the help of the movie’s breakout star, Pat Morita, audiences fell in love with the underdog kid. Daniel was a troubled youth with a heart of gold. On the other side was Johnny Lawrence, a troubled youth whose toxic sensei turned him into a monster. 

This dynamic helped guide the franchise through three movies. Audiences watched as Daniel overcame obstacles and forged a bond with not only Morita’s Mr. Miyagi but also several other characters throughout the run. In many ways, Johnny was the antithesis of Daniel. However, save for an introduction in Part II, Johnny disappeared into the background. 

Since then, the franchise has seen many makeovers. The first came in part four, which starred a young Hillary Swank in the title role after Macchio left the series. The original was reimagined in 2010, with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in the leading roles. However, it wasn’t until recently that fans got to see where Danny and Johnny’s relationship ended up. With ‘Cobra Kai,’ they got that answer.

What is ‘Cobra Kai’?

The Karate Kid gave Johnny a somewhat sympathetic tint, Nicki Swift reported, but the film never fully dove into his psyche. Thanks to Cobra Kai, fans were able to see the world through a perceived antagonist’s eyes. Johnny is still a heavily flawed character, but audiences get to see the problems that caused him to lash out 35 years earlier and his reconciliation of those issues in his 50s. 

As luck would have it, he opens his own dojo — Cobra Kai — after losing his job and finds himself once again in Danny LaRusso’s sights. While the series helps the two characters form a less toxic relationship, they’re still rivals in every sense of the word. However, with such a complicated on-screen relationship, it’s easy to presume the actors dislike each other. That’s not the case. 

Macchio and Zabka aren’t just friends, though. They’re good friends. 

Art (not) imitating life


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Ralph Macchio and William Zabka sparked the revival of their most famous roles. Though The Karate Kid is still beloved, it always showed Danny’s point of view. As the two actors grew older, they began discussing the possibility of reigniting the feud that made them famous. 

“Ralph and I have become good friends over the years, and from the ground up, when we first got pitched this, we’ve been in close contact since,” Zabka told “We’re both very careful and respectful of The Karate Kid and we have that shared history together.”

However, while the creative desire to complete a story that defined both of their lives was a driving force, the chance to work together also made them closer. 

“The two of us [share] something that only we can understand and relate to,” Zabka told the publication. “[T]o get the chance to work with them again is a sort of thrill, and to see [Macchio] turn into Daniel LaRusso, and when I step into Johnny, those guys still live in us, and it’s happening.”

According to Macchio, it didn’t take long for him to revert to hating Zabka on-screen again. 

“It was the first scene we played in 30-something years, and it just instinctively had a chemistry about it that we didn’t even know we had,” Macchio told “It’s sort of like I say, lightning has struck twice [and] it’s sort of like, this project is blessed. The movie was, certainly, and so is this series.”

It can be easy to forget that life on-screen doesn’t reflect life off it, and Macchio and Zabka’s relationship shows this. Season 3 of Cobra Kai is set to premiere in January 2021 on Netflix. What new twists and turns will Danny’s and Johnny’s lives take?