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The Cobra Kai Character That William Zabka Says Is Most Like Johnny

Beneath the karate, beneath the love triangles, beneath the adults still mentally stuck in the '80s with all the things Americans in the '80s couldn't live without, and the adults still mentally stuck in high school — not to mention the adults still mentally stuck in South Vietnam – The Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai weaves a story about the interplay between generations. Just as the relationship between Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) was at the core of the original trilogy, the story Cobra Kai wants to tell is about those interactions between people from different eras, what they have to teach each other, and how they can mess each other up.

While the series and its sprawling cast is undoubtedly telling a more complex story than the films it builds on, there's still an instinct to find analogues between the old and the new. Who's the new Daniel? Who's the new Miyagi? And, perhaps most importantly given his prominence in the series, who's the new Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka)?

How Cobra Kai served the same function for Johnny and Tory

Zabka has an opinion, at least partially. He told an interviewer from Men's Health that he saw a lot of similarities between Johnny's story and that of the new Cobra Kai's alpha mean girl Tory (Peyton List), especially in the way Kreese (Martin Kove) earned her loyalty. Minor spoilers for Cobra Kai season 3 follow.

Tory is one of the reborn Cobra Kai's most hardcore believers, in large part because of how her own life has reinforced the lesson that no one will show you mercy, so you should follow suit. Though she references her hard circumstances in season 2 when talking with Miguel, it's in the third season of Cobra Kai that audiences get the best picture of Tory's home life: a sick mother, a landlord who harasses her about the rent, and the multiple jobs she's working to stay on top of it all after being kicked out of school for her role in the fight that ended season 2.

But when she quits the dojo, Kreese comes to the rescue, bullying the landlord into laying off and allowing her to come back to training. "That's how a Kreese gets in charge of these kids' lives," Zabka said, "there's a moment of weakness, a moment of need, and then in comes some support, and it could be deceiving in a way and get lured in, and now she's lured in under his spell."

The long legacy of John Kreese

After all, Johnny turned to Cobra Kai in part to escape his unhappy home life, and his cruel stepfather Sid. "It's a lot like what may have happened to Johnny when he was a kid. He was lost and had a need, and Kreese kind of filled it in."

But Zabka, and Cobra Kai's third season, suggest Kreese isn't entirely evil, just misdirected in his beliefs. "He comes from a different cloth, a different time, a different experience with Vietnam in the '60s and where he came from. He's bringing that forward," Zabka says. The same belief system that turned Johnny into a bully in the early '80s is still proving attractive to the youth of today, still teaching them to strike first, strike hard, and show no mercy. It's up to Johnny, and Daniel, to break the generational cycle. 

Cobra Kai season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.