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How Cobra Kai's Billy Zabka And Ralph Macchio Reunited Over Tragedy

Throughout its two season run on YouTube Premium, Cobra Kai established itself as The Karate Kid sequel series the world never knew it wanted. Picking up 34 years after the infamous "Crane Kick" heard round the world found Ralph Macchio's plucky outsider Daniel besting his bullying rival Johnny (William Zabka) in battle, Cobra Kai finds the boys grown to men, and each facing their own troubles seemingly born of that fateful moment. The series has also savvily blurred the moral scripts for each, mining unexpectedly resonant drama from the disparate lives of two of the most formidable cinematic foes of the eighties.

The drama only heightened after the tragic events of Cobra Kai's second season finale, going into the 2021 premiere of season 3. Series stars Macchio and Zabka recently Zoomed in for a revelatory Esquire interview in which they talked all things Cobra Kai. Over the course of conversation, it was also revealed that a real-life tragedy led to the pair rekindling their old friendship.   

Prompted by their interviewer about how their reunion came about, Zabka indeed confirmed the pair reconnected at the 2005 funeral of Mr. Miyagi himself, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. "After the film [The Karate Kid], we were young, we went our different ways. We bumped into each other at a screening here and there. But I remember it being Pat's funeral where we reconnected."

Macchio went on to confirm it was initially Zabka who pitched the idea of getting Daniel and Johnny back in the ring for more karate-tinged drama. "We connected through a little bit of work and a little bit of fandom. Billy [Zabka] would say, 'Can we ever go back and bring these characters together?' He had ideas. And now we look really smart."

Once Macchio and Zabka got The Karate Kid band back together, onscreen magic soon followed

Almost 13 years after reuniting, those ideas became the foundation for Cobra Kai. And to the shock of pretty much everyone on the planet, the series has indeed become a small screen hit worthy of being touted by its new streaming partner Netflix.

It has also renewed the status of both Macchio and Zabka, who had seen their stars fade a touch in the decades since The Karate Kid became a cultural phenomenon. But even in the early days of Cobra Kai, the pair knew they were creating something special, with Zabka claiming their onscreen chemistry was present in the very first scene they shot. "When we had our first scene at the dojo, it was the first time Johnny and Daniel—us in our characters—faced off. It's not really acting. It's existing. And as soon as that scene was over, I think we all knew it. This is on."

That season 1 scene indeed simmers in surprising ways. Macchio was caught off-guard by just how well he and Zabka vibed after so many years. "It went beyond the expectation. There was a chemistry that we had, just by being connected to this movie that had become such a big part of pop culture. We've lived attached to these characters from different perspectives, and then you come into contact over the years. You're adding layers onto that adolescent time. Life has happened for both of us, separately and together."

Now that The Karate Kid lives again on screen, Zabka is out to ensure Morita's spirit will remain present in Cobra Kai as well. "He's the soul of Miyagi-do, the wise Yoda that's maybe not with us, but still with us." Frankly, we couldn't have said it better ourselves.