How William Zabka’s Johnny Audition Terrified Ralph Macchio

Before William Zabka’s lead role as adult Johnny Lawrence in Netflix’s Cobra Kai series, he first played the character in the somewhat true story film The Karate Kid. Johnny was Sensei John Kreese’s star pupil at the Cobra Kai karate dojo and Daniel LaRusso’s high school bully. Kreese ultimately corrupted Johnny into a violent lifestyle due to Johnny’s lack of a healthy father figure in his life.

After much abuse from Johnny and his Cobra Kai posse, Daniel decided to fight back with the help of his apartment complex’s handyman/former karate sensei Mr. Miyagi. Johnny and Daniel’s long-standing feud has continued throughout the Cobra Kai series. Behind the scenes, Ralph Macchio was initially terrified of Zabka due to his aggressive behavior during his audition for The Karate Kid,

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When Zabka was initially cast in the first The Karate Kid, he only had commercials for companies like M&M’s in his acting portfolio. Zabka had no prior karate experience before he landed the role of Johnny, but he excelled in wrestling. His lack of both karate and motorcycle knowledge led him to believe he wasn’t a great fit for The Karate Kid. In an episode of Entertainment Weekly’s The Awardist podcast, Zabka revealed his insecurities about how the production would never see him as the “gang karate guy.”


Despite not having starred in a hit film like Macchio and his role as another Johnny in The OutsidersZabka still impressed director John G. Avildsen with his The Karate Kid audition. During the audition, Zabka grabbed Avildsen by the shirt and threw him back into his chair. Zabka immediately apologized to Avildsen for his abrupt outburst and stated the behavior was “Johnny,” not him. Zabka recalled the incident in an interview with Hollywood Outbreak and Macchio’s response of how Zabka “legitimately scared the s*** out of [him],

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Zabka’s unintentional outburst wasn’t the only time he scared Macchio. Although, the second time was also an accident. Zabka and Macchio caught up with Men’s Journal about Macchio’s accidental injury during a take of when Daniel was beaten up at the Halloween dance by Johnny and other Cobra Kai students. Zabka’s front roundhouse kick accidentally made contact with Macchio’s face. Macchio recalled how the kick landed on his jaw, and he was forced to eat through a straw for some time after the injury.

Zabka has played many bully-like characters throughout his acting career, which started with his casting of the Big Bad Wolf at only five years old. Zabka revealed this piece of history to GQ, along with other tidbits of information. Zabka confessed to a few “showdowns” when people walked up to him and claimed they could beat him. People also would walk up to him and be surprised at how nice Zabka was compared to the characters he portrayed on-screen.


Other than The Karate Kid franchise, Zabka can be seen as Audrey’s jock boyfriend in National Lampoon’s European Vacation and the 1986 film Back to School alongside Rodney Dangerfield. Zabka was even nominated for an Oscar for co-writing and producing the 2004 live-action short film Most. Despite his on-screen bully persona, if someone came across Zabka in a dark alley, they’d probably be safe.

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