What Ralph Macchio Told Me Just Before 'Cobra Kai' Began


Since Netflix picked up the YouTube Red series "Cobra Kai," after it had already run for two seasons, customers of the considerably more popular streaming service have fallen in love with revisiting the characters from 1984's "The Karate Kid." The movie, of course, was a smash hit, delivering returns of $100 million on a modest budget of $8 million. It also earned Best Supporting Actor nominations for the late Pat Morita (Mr Miyagi) from both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Yep, Arnold from the ABC comedy "Happy Days." A stand-up comic whose shtick was lost on the big boys behind the film, a couple of which had been behind "Rocky." They wanted someone far more serious.

Macchio and I discussed this upon my meeting him with my daughter just before news of the new series had broken. When I told Macchio how much the movie meant to me (I saw it two nights in a row the summer before my senior year in high school), how great he was in it, as was Morita, I pointed out how I'd only learned of the Oscar nomination a few years earlier. My daughter thought I was being a wiseguy and told me to stop. I assured her I was serious, and as we parted ways with Macchio, who completely made my daughter's year (part Daniel LaRusso, part Johnny from the film "The Outsiders") I shouted back, "See how we couldn't possibly know anything?" (Macchio and I had discussed daughters for a bit, as I had interviewed his daughter, when she was en route to New Haven to play the lead role in another 80's classic, albeit the musical version: "Footloose" at The Shubert.) He replied "Your father's right! Maybe some Emmy's too."

The "Emmy's too" line didn't register for at least a minute. What did he mean by that, I thought to myself. An Emmy - which are given to TV shows - for a movie that came out over 30 years ago? I immediately assumed a "Karate Kid" TV show was on its way, and probably to The CW.

Not "Cobra Kai," a show that is way better than it has any right to be, where Zabka is getting to redeem the character Johnny, if not set the record completely straight that he was never really the bad guy to begin with. In my opinion, if anyone's going to get an Emmy for "Cobra Kai" it's Zabka.

Then there he was. I had wound up knowing Macchio's handler, plus Macchio himself could see the gleam in my daughter's eye, so they went above and beyond for us. I didn't even know Zabka was going to be there. We had the greatest conversation. I told him he looked exactly the same, to which he replied "So do you!" He was hilarious. I introduced him to my daughter and asked if he had any kids. His answer? "Not that I know of."

But I didn't get a photo. I had already spent a considerable amount of money on other photos and on comic books. I was a cheapskate. Every time I watch a scene of "Cobra Kai" where Zabka completely nails it I think about that missed opportunity. And about how maybe it is Johnny after all who was "The Karate Kid."  

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