THEORIES: Was Daniel the Bully in The Karate Kid & Cobra Kai?

Ralph Macchio and William Zabka Posing

Getty Ralph Macchio and William Zabka pose together at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.

There has been a long-standing debate among Karate Kid fans if Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is the franchise’s antagonist, as reported by Screen Rant. The theory has been so popular that it was actually featured during the eighth season of How I Met Your Mother, with William Zabka and Ralph Macchio playing themselves. 


A 2015 YouTube Video With Over 13 Million Views Delves Into the Theory

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio Comic-Con

GettyWilliam Zabka and Ralph Macchio are on a panel at the 2019 Comic-Con in San Diego.

The publication noted a video titled “The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully” from channel J. Matthew Turner, which has amassed 13 million views since its upload in 2015, paints Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as a decent person who was repeatedly antagonized by Daniel. 

The video argues that the New Jersey native “was a violent sociopath” who “begins tormenting a local boy and his friends.” Meanwhile, the Cobra Kai team member is described as someone “with a commitment to atone for past mistakes.” 

The video then refers to the beach scene, in which Johnny takes his ex-girlfriend Ali’s radio. The narrator notes that while Johnny was disrespectful, he was not resorting to violence. The claim is then made that Daniel “[chose] to escalate the situation,” causing Johnny to “in the heat of the moment, [push] Daniel down.” The video also suggests that Daniel overreacted by lunging toward him and Johnny’s moves were in mere defense.

The scene in which Daniel pours water on Johnny during the Halloween dance is also discussed. The narrator portrays the high school student as unhinged and potentially dangerous, therefore, it was within reason for Johnny to attack him. Johnny is then praised for “agree[ing] to refrain from defending himself against any more of Daniel’s unprovoked aggression” while his rival can train for the 1984 All-Valley Tournament. It is then shown that Johnny has “good sportsmanship” when he loses to Daniel.

Screen Rant noted, however, that the video is biased toward Johnny and he is mainly at fault in The Karate Kid. 


Cobra Kai Co-Creator Jon Hurwitz Commented on the Theory

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio

Getty William Zabka and Ralph Macchio pose at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

One of the co-creators and executive producers of Cobra Kai, Jon Hurwitz, seemingly referred to the fan theory video in a January interview with /Film. When asked about the scene in Season 3 Episode 1, where residents of Encino denounce Daniel and his family over the massive fight that occurred at West Valley High School, Hurwitz stated,

It’s partly showing some of the premise of our show that heroes and villains are in the eye of the audience member. Anyone’s the hero of their own story but the villain of someone else’s. It’s also a little bit of a nod to the fan theories that go on with the Karate Kid universe. “Daniel Was the Real Bully” was a popular YouTube video. It’s one of the debated things in pop culture, so we thought it was sort of fun to acknowledge there in there. Same goes for that Sam line, that it’s not necessarily that everyone feels one way, but it’s making it that different sides are being argued. Daniel and Amanda, frankly, are being confronted with the perception of the LaRussos right now and Miyagi. Even the guy in the crowd yells about “that Miyagi crap.” So he knows vaguely that there is this Karate thing, but because this kid got injured, everyone’s assuming that it’s a bad thing. It was something that was kind of fun to play with at the beginning of the season.

To see more of Johnny and Daniel’s rivalry, be sure to watch Cobra Kai Season 3, available on Netflix.

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