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How old the cast of Cobra Kai really is

Love it or hate it, it appears as though Hollywood's 1980s nostalgia trip is going to continue for some time. People who were kids in the '80s are now old enough to be making movies and TV shows of their own, and there's been no shortage of throwbacks and homages in recent years. In this climate, it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to dust off The Karate Kid, one of the most enduring '80s classics. "The Karate Kid is just one of the films of that era, I guess Back to the Future would be the other, that really has stood the pop culture test of time," star Ralph Macchio told the Independent.

Macchio debuted as Daniel LaRusso in 1984's The Karate Kid and would reprise the role in 1986's The Karate Kid Part II as well as 1989's The Karate Kid Part III. A fourth film featuring Hilary Swank as Mr. Miyagi's new student came and went quietly in 1994, and the 2010 Jaden Smith-led reboot was met with a mixed response. It was only when they decided to bring back the original cast that people sat up and took notice. Sequel series Cobra Kai began life on YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) before moving to Netflix for its third season, which is set to premiere in 2021. Some of the principal cast members will be getting on a bit by then, but just how old are they? Let's take a look.

Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso)

Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Nicolas Cage were all reportedly considered for the role of the karate kid himself, Daniel LaRusso. Luckily for Ralph Macchio, his performance in Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders (1983) left an impression on casting director Bonnie Timmermann, and he got the nod. Macchio was a little older than the aforementioned actors (he was 22 years old when he filmed The Karate Kid), but his baby face meant he was able to pull off playing a high school student with ease. Those youthful looks made it tricky to land adult roles in the years that followed, but they have also allowed him to remain recognizable as LaRusso, and that's not a bad thing. 

"The fact that I look quasi-young for my age, I always have sort of elongated that sort of connection," Macchio told The Morning Call via telephone. "But I think in a positive way. It's something that will be connected to me forever, regardless of what other work and other things I do." The New Yorker's evergreen looks are why so many people are double-taking when they first sit down to watch Cobra Kai. Believe it or not, he'll turn 60 in 2021, the year the third season premieres.

William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence)

The Karate Kid producers wanted an unknown actor for the part of Johnny Lawrence, Cobra Kai's top student and Daniel LaRusso's worst nightmare. The obnoxious ex-boyfriend of Daniel's love interest Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue) has developed into a more sympathetic character since the first film, but back then, he really was the worst. In fact, William Zabka was so good at making Johnny unlikeable that the live audience brought in for The Karate Kid's final tournament scene actually started booing him. "Emotion took over," he told Sports Illustrated. "I see my mom sitting in the stands and she's like, 'He's my son! He's not a bad guy!'"

With Cobra Kai, Zabka was given the chance to redeem the character, something he's actually been doing in person for over three decades. He told the New York Post: "I'm older now so I don't look exactly like the 18-year-old Johnny, but a lot of people would come up to me over the years, like, 'Oh you're that jerk, you're that bad guy.' And I would defend Johnny." The actor turns 55 in October 2020, but, despite not looking quite as fresh-faced as he once did, he's definitely still got the moves. Zabka carried on training with martial arts expert Pat Johnson after filming on The Karate Kid wrapped, and he hit the gym hard when Cobra Kai was confirmed.

Courtney Henggeler (Amanda LaRusso)

In The Karate Kid Part II, we learned that Daniel LaRusso's first love Ali Mills had wrecked his car and run off with a football player, so it wasn't all that surprising when the character wasn't brought back for Cobra Kai. In her place is Daniel LaRusso's straight-talking wife Amanda LaRusso, portrayed by The Big Bang Theory's Courtney Henggeler. She was actually on the verge of quitting acting when she heard about the audition, but luckily for her, her husband talked her into going. Before long she was rubbing shoulders with the "idols" of her childhood. "I met Ralph [Macchio] at the screen test but that's all a blur to me because I was terrified," she told Daily Actor. "And then a week later, I got the phone call, 'You're moving to Atlanta in three days, pack up your family.' There was no time to even think."

She admitted to feeling like a bit of an imposter to begin with ("I got on set and I'm like, 'What the f*** am I doing?'"), though considering she's supposed to be playing a woman in her mid-40s, that's understandable. Henggeler was born in 1981, and was only 36 years old when the first season of Cobra Kai premiered. There's around a decade between her and Amanda LaRusso, though we like to think that the character has been using the same skincare routine as her ever-young husband.

Martin Kove (John Kreese)

Martin Kove beat out competition from Christopher Walken, Kurt Russell, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Bridges, and (rather oddly) Leonard Nimoy for the role of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, an unhinged Vietnam War vet and the overarching villain of the franchise. To get into the right shape and the right mindset, Kove shadowed choreographer and real-life tournament referee Pat Johnson, who learned martial arts while stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army and later worked with oft-memed action star Chuck Norris. "I trained [Kove] as if he were my equal," Johnson told Sports Illustrated. "He just stood in the background when I was teaching the Cobra Kai kids; he'd watch me pound them into the ground."

Kove picked up more than a couple of techniques from his mentor. After spending some time in his company, the actor decided that Johnson was so much like Kreese that he essentially just needed to mimic him. "I got the attitude for my character from Pat," Kove said. "I used his kiais. I used the way he stood with his hands in his belt. I became the Darth Vader of the karate world." The actor manages to be just as, if not more imposing in Cobra Kai, despite being into his golden years. Kove turned 74 in March 2020, but still has multiple projects in various stages of production and clearly doesn't plan on slowing down.

Tanner Buchanan (Robby Keene)

Tanner Buchanan was introduced to the world of The Karate Kid by his mother, a black belt in the discipline and a superfan of the movie. Buchanan never got into martial arts himself as a child, but his skill set (he comes from a gymnastics and dance background) meant that he was able to adapt to Cobra Kai's fight choreography with relative ease. Not long after he secured the part of Robby Keene, son of William Zabka's Johnny Lawrence, Buchanan was contacted by his new dad's old enemy. "I was in the middle of watching Karate Kid II, and then I got a call from New York, so I paused the movie to pick it up and it was you," he recalled during a chat with Ralph Macchio for Interview magazine.

The star of the franchise has been impressed with the new talent that they have managed to recruit for Cobra Kai ("The casting of the younger generation of the show has been a joy for me," Macchio said), even if they aren't quite as young as we're led to believe. Robby Keene is supposed to be an 18-year-old in the show, but Buchanan was older than that when the first episode dropped. He turns 22 in December 2020, and — with his mixture of good looks, athleticism and acting chops — will most likely be around for years to come.

Xolo Maridueña (Miguel Diaz)

Xolo Maridueña was best known as Victor from NBC's Parenthood prior to landing the part of 18-year-old Miguel "Miggy" Diaz on Cobra Kai. Miggy's neighbor on the show is William Zabka's Johnny Lawrence, who molds the teen into the top student at the titular dojo. "Billy, in particular, was just the coolest guy," Maridueña told Tell-Tale TV in 2018. "I think a part of him understands that I am about to embark into a role that has shades of his Johnny Lawrence and he wanted to prepare me for the physical and mental challenges that being 'that guy' brings with it to a role."

It's clear that the stars of the original movie franchise have been going out of their way to make their younger castmates feel at home, and if anyone needs an arm around his shoulder, it's Maridueña. Unlike most of the kids on the show, he's actually around the same age as his character. He was just 17 when the first season of Cobra Kai premiered, but, despite his tender years, he's become one of the show's standouts and a firm fan favorite. The love isn't lost on him. "This franchise in itself is something that means so much to so many people that by getting to just be a small part of that means the world to me," he told Showbiz Junkies.

Mary Mouser (Samantha LaRusso)

Arkansas native Mary Mouser had never seen The Karate Kid when she auditioned for the part of Samantha LaRusso, daughter of Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso. When she landed the role, she decided it would be wise to familiarize herself with her new onscreen father's backstory. "I sat down with my boyfriend and binge-watched the movies," she told Brief Take. "I loved them! I ended up watching them about five more times over filming the course of the show. Think I'm bit of a fangirl?" The late Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi struck a particular chord with the young actor, reminding her of a mentor that she once had.

"I had a great experience on a show I was on called Body of Proof," Mouser recalled. "I worked with [Desperate Housewives star] Dana Delany for three years and for the duration of my 14-year-old self to my 17-year-old self, and all the things I went through in that period." By the time she was cast as 18-year-old Samantha LaRusso on Cobra Kai, she had more than enough experience to handle the demanding role — Mouser turned 22 in May 2018, when the first episode of the sequel series dropped online. She can still pull off being a student, but she'll be in her mid-20s come the end of 2021, when the third season of the show is scheduled to air.

Jacob Bertrand (Eli Moskowitz)

Jacob Bertrand's Eli Moskowitz (a.k.a Hawk) has been on quite the rollercoaster ride in the first two seasons of Cobra Kai. After seeing Xolo Maridueña's Miggy use his karate to deal with multiple assailants, Eli decides to join the Cobra Kai Dojo so he can learn the same techniques, though when he does, the power ends up going to his head. He goes from a bullied kid to the one doing the bullying, an aspect of the character that the actor really enjoys. "I think that it's harder for those kids because they have so much aggression from being bullied," Bertrand told Showbiz Junkies. "They want payback."

Hawk is very different from the characters Bertrand has played in the past. The young star is used to being recognized for his work in children's TV, but is now enjoying the fact that he has some cross generational appeal. "I did a lot of like Disney Channel, Nickelodeon stuff before Cobra Kai so my fan base was a lot younger, like 12-year-old girls and younger boys," he said at WonderCon 2019. "Now it's like 40-year-old dudes are like, 'Dude, you're so badass!'... So I like that aspect. Like, my dad's era." Being a 40-year-old dude apparently makes you an old man in Bertrand's eyes, but that's because he's half that age — the affable actor celebrated his 20th birthday in 2020.

Gianni Decenzo (Demetri)

One of the youngest Cobra Kai cast members, Gianni Decenzo had not long turned 16 when he auditioned for the role of jaded social outcast Demetri, the third student to join Daniel LaRusso's revamped Miyagi-Do Karate dojo. Like his co-star Courtney Henggeler, Decenzo was cast very late in the game and had to jump in at the deep end. "They had sent me the script a couple of days before the actual audition," he told Cobra Kai Kompanion. "I went in, and literally two days later they called me and said, 'Hey, you're going to Georgia!'"

Demetri is 17 years old on the show, so Decenzo doesn't have to try too hard to put himself in that high school mindset. His character starts out as a friend of Jacob Bertrand's Eli, but when Eli gets in with the Cobra Kai lot and transforms into vengeful bully Hawk, they drift apart. After a second ill-fated attempt at joining Cobra Kai himself (he leaves the dojo with a bloody nose after making the mistake of telling Martin Kove's John Kreese that his snake tattoo isn't "anatomically correct"), Demetri decides that Daniel LaRusso's teaching methods are far more suited to him. When he finally faces Hawk in season 2, he proves that he made the right choice, sending his ex-pal flying into a trophy cabinet with a kick.