William Zabka Once Tried Bullying a Rival in a Real-Life Tournament

Cobra Kai revived The Karate Kid franchise when it debuted on the now-defunct YouTube Red in 2018. The series presents the story more from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). In the original film, Johnny is the clear villain, a frequent bully to Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). But the Netflix show explores Johnny more thoroughly. Zabka is very different but once admitted to having a bit of Johnny Lawrence in him.

Martin Kove and William Zabka at a 'Cobra Kai' press event
Martin Kove and William Zabka at a ‘Cobra Kai’ press event | Jerod Harris/Getty Images

William Zabka made his film debut in ‘The Karate Kid’

Zabka made his film debut in 1984’s The Karate Kid. And playing Johnny Lawrence would come to define his career. From that point on, Zabka was often cast as the bully or the villain. However, the work he’d done before then was leading down a very different path, Zabka told GQ in 2011.

“It’s beyond me [why I was cast as Johnny]. Prior to The Karate Kid, I did commercials — Kool-Aid, Pepsi, milk — and I had always been cast as the all-American nice guy. The funny turn is that now what I’m known for are these a**holes. … I spend a lot of time having to say, ‘Dude, I’m an actor.’”

Since Zabka never intended to play villains, it must be gratifying to dig deeper into Johnny Lawrence on Cobra Kai. After all, the actor gets to show a much different side of not only his character but also his skills as an actor. Season 3 even leaves Johnny in the most emotionally mature place he’s been thus far.

The actor admitted to behaving like Johnny Lawrence

Zabka doesn’t generally consider himself much like Johnny Lawrence. But in that same interview with GQ, he does cop to the fact that he may have dipped into bully territory on occasion. As it turns out, high school Zabka tried to pull a stunt very much in keeping with something Johnny would have done in The Karate Kid.

“Well, actually, I was a wrestler in high school. One tournament, I ended up in the finals. For two hours, I stalked this kid around the gym, just staring him down and trying to intimidate him before our match. But when they called us out for the match, another guy came out. I realized I was staring down the wrong guy.”

Perhaps it’s a testament to how unnatural it was for Zabka to be a bully even then. In any case, the embarrassing results of his attempted intimidation likely discouraged him from engaging in such behavior again. Still, there’s a juicy satisfaction to learn the actor was once willing to exhibit “no mercy” to win a tournament.


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‘Cobra Kai’ has taken the character far away from his bully roots

Until recently, The Karate Kid fans considered Johnny Lawrence little more than an underdeveloped bully character. But he’s become so much more. In the hands of Cobra Kai, he’s developed a more compassionate soul. Becoming a mentor to Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), Johnny has found a second chance at being a good father.

Moreover, his initial goal to restart Cobra Kai — though misinterpreted by Daniel — was loaded with pure intentions. Now he and Daniel are united in their belief that the dojo needs to be taken down. So fans might be in for an epic season 4, as the former rivals unite against Kreese (Martin Kove). Especially if Kreese calls on a certain friend for back-up.