William Zabka says Johnny’s ‘shedding’ dojo


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Watch actors William Zabka and Xolo Maridueña in this exclusive clip from the upcoming season of Netflix’s “Karate Kid” spinoff.

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Will the latest “Cobra Kai” chapter continue to show Johnny Lawrence “no mercy”?

Season 3 of “The Karate Kid” spin-off stepped to the mat Friday (streaming on Netflix), picking up where the series’ sophomore season left off – with life serving Johnny (William Zabka) a beating worthy of the All Valley tournament. 

In the new season, Johnny is “shedding his skin of Cobra Kai, and he’s shedding everything he thought he was teaching the kids,” Zabka tells USA TODAY.

The life of Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) hangs in the balance after a kick from Johnny’s estranged son Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) sent Miguel sailing over a balcony. Miguel’s mom and Johnny’s potential love interest Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) wants nothing to do with him. On top of that, his old sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) has hijacked his dojo and Johnny’s students have turned against him, blaming him for Miguel’s injury as Johnny encouraged the teen to show his opponents mercy. 

“He’s worse off than when we met him – so much guilt and self-condemnation,” which result in drinking and fights, Zabka, 55, says. “But one thing that he has going for him in Season 3 is the engine of this pilot light of righteous anger at Kreese and wanting to make things right and loving these kids that are helping him grow.”

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William Zabka says in the third installment of “Cobra Kai,” his character Johnny Lawrence is “worse off than when we met him.” (Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

“He’s got a long journey to go though because he’s kind of a man without his cape in a way,” Zabka adds. “He doesn’t have Cobra Kai around him. He’s gotta reinvent himself now.” 

While Johnny rebuilds himself, he also tries to help Miguel regain the use of his legs. In a clip of the new season USA TODAY debuted, Miguel reveals he “might never be able to walk,” but Johnny doesn’t tolerate his student’s pessimism. 

“Never. Can’t. Those are just words, they’re meaningless,” Johnny replies. “You’re gonna do whatever it takes, and I’m always gonna be right here next to you, ’cause I’ll always be your teacher.”

Zabka loves the bond the characters share and believes the part of Miguel is a vital catalyst for Johnny’s evolution.  

“Johnny’s craved being a dad to Robby for so long and has so much guilt. He has such a reserve of wasted fatherhood in him that he can never plant in his own kid,” Zabka says. “To have somebody that believes in you, that stuff goes a long way. So that’s the fire that lights Johnny. Somebody needs him, somebody’s giving him a chance, and he doesn’t want to fail this time.”

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While Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) continues to recover, Johnny (William Zabka) takes him to a concert. (Photo: CURTIS BONDS BAKER/NETFLIX)

While the new season shows Johnny constructing his future, for Kreese, it revisits the past, depicting some of the major life events that hardened the Cobra Kai founder, including his days serving in Vietnam.

“John Kreese is not a villain. John Kreese is just a misunderstood character,” Kove, 74, says.

The actor helped shape an origin story when he joined the series.

“I had a lot of ideas about (Kreese) in Vietnam and wanted to prove a little more vulnerability to this character,” says Kove who feels Season 3 provides “justifications for this character’s psychology, for this character’s baggage, for his values” and an understanding of “why John Kreese is the way he is.”

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The unrelenting John Kreese (Martin Kove) with his former student, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). (Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX)

Putting such effort into his character’s backstory creates a connection to Kreese that is, at times, hard for Kove to sever. In reaction to a violation or betrayal, Kove says sometimes he can “find myself not forgiving. I find myself, over the last couple of years, really becoming John Kreese.”

“I don’t look at it as venom, but there’s a darkness that comes up, and it comes up right through my eyes,” Kove adds. “I think it’s come up more intensely since we’re doing this series than from ‘The Karate Kid’ movies.” 

He believes for some actors, “depending on how much homework they did, how much backstory they created for their character, it determines how much sticks with them in everyday life.”

“While you’re working it certainly is there,” he says. “It’s really hard to shake. You gotta give yourself a few months of being Marty Kove back from John Kreese.”

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