Mandatory Combat Battles: Cobra Kai’s Johnny Lawrence vs. The Karate Kid’s Daniel LaRusso

Cobra Kais season three episode, “Now You’re Gonna Pay,” sees Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) interviews for a job; the employer notices he didn’t fill out the part about “prior arrests” on his application: “Hey, we’re just a couple of guys talking here, what are we dealing with? Petty theft?” 

“Alright. Well, most recently I was arrested for public intoxication, assault, and battery, willful destruction of property (not necessarily in that order), and a year ago I was arrested for assaulting a minor,” says Johnny. “Well, technically multiple minors. Those kids were real pricks.”

If Johnny had a time machine, would he go back and beat up a young Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio)? Absolutely. He’d strike first. Strike hard. No mercy. Even Mr. Miyagi ruffed up kids. That said, this Mandatory Combat Battle will not speculate as to whether 17-year-old Daniel could hold his own against a 50-year-old man. Instead, we’ll examine how Johnny, who was once the antagonist of The Karate Kid, has become the protagonist of Cobra Kai. Is he a better hero than Daniel was 30 years ago? Or is the latter still cheating his way to the top? Let’s find out. 

Cover Photo: Netflix 

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Johnny doesn’t benefit from the teaching of Mr. Miyagi or enjoy the warm embrace of Ali Mills (well, actually he kind of does) but his story is more relatable, his character more complex (and quotable), and his car is way cooler. Cobra Kai’s protagonist benefits from masterful writing that walks the tonal tightrope between The Karate Kid and satire. Some will argue that Daniel and Johnny are duel protagonists of Cobra Kai. Those people would be wrong. Johnny sucker punches audiences in the face with the show’s central message: combat, like life, is unforgiving…

But be compassionate anyway. 

Overall Winner: Johnny Lawrence

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