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Cobra Kai's Xolo Maridueña Reveals His Real-Life Martial Arts Roots - Exclusive

You didn't think the new karate kid would be down for long, did you? After Miguel Diaz's bone-cracking plummet during the season 2 finale of Cobra Kai, many fans were left wondering how or if he would ever make it to the next All Valley Tournament. As Cobra Kai season 3 approached, trailers and publicity stills surfaced, and the only images of Miguel featured him bound to a wheelchair — it was starting to look like, when it came to karate, he was permanently down for the count.

But thanks to the persistent and unconventional efforts of his devoted sensei, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Miguel made it back on his feet. And let's be real here, partial credit goes to the hair metal healing powers of Twisted Sister's Dee Snider. As for spending a hefty duration of the season confined to the wheelchair, don't assume that was some serious method acting from Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña. He told Looper as much during a recent exclusive interview.

"Honestly, I'd love to walk around and say I pulled a Heath Ledger and that I broke my own legs. And I was like so down to," says Maridueña. "But I really think the battle with Miguel is less about the physical aspect of it and more about the mental aspect of having something taken away from you. And I think both karate and Johnny are two things that mean more than anything to Miguel, so having those two things taken away from him, I think is almost worse than being paralyzed for the first bit of the season, in a lot of different ways. So, I think tackling those mental obstacles was harder than sitting in a wheelchair and pretending I couldn't walk. I think as the season progresses, that seems to be more apparent."

'For the longest time I wanted to be a chemist'

Back on his feet and back in the fighting ring is where Maridueña feels most at home. In fact, the 19-year-old actor is no stranger to karate dojos — he dabbled with martial arts long before landing his Cobra Kai role. Not only is he putting those moves to use on the show, but he's further training and enhancing those skills. Cobra Kai seems to have has revived his interest in certain fighting styles, although he's not sure if karate is exactly his jam.

"I don't necessarily know if karate is the lane for me," he reveals while explaining his martial arts background. "I think having the opportunity to try out a bunch of different martial arts because of the show has really drawn me more into the direction of a grappling jiu-jitsu kind of lane. But I think it's definitely something that I would love to pick up. Right before quarantine, I was doing a little bit of jiu-jitsu and going into some gyms and grappling, so it is something that piques my interest. I've started to watch the fights on TV and stuff like that, which I really probably wouldn't have done having not booked the show."

Not too long before the actor donned his sleeveless black and yellow karate gi and turned heads as the new modern-day karate kid, his future almost involved white lab coats, petri dishes, and test tubes. That's right — Maridueña once had a surprising alternate career path in mind if his big Hollywood break hadn't panned out.

"For the longest time I wanted to be a chemist," he recalls. "I think it wasn't until I took AP chemistry that I was like, 'I cannot do this, this is not what I want the rest of my life to be,' Even throughout high school, I took all of my AP classes and did my fair share of those, but I think if acting wasn't around, I definitely would have done something in the STEM field. Maybe some sort of engineer or whatnot, but I have buddies who are going through college and going through the process of becoming engineers right now and it's admirable. But I think it's the same kind of drive. I really love acting and I feel like because of that, I'm willing to put in the extra hours and really take the time for it. And they're the same with their craft, so I think there's a Cobra Kai for everyone."