“Karate Kid” and “Cobra Kai” star William Zabka is best-known for his role as bully Johnny Lawrence in the successful film and TV series, but many fans may not know that his role as a bully stretched much beyond the popular franchise.
Here’s what you need to know about other notable William Zabka roles.
William Zabka Portrayed Bully Greg Tolan In “Just One of the Guys”
“Just One of the Guys” was a Columbia Pictures film that premiered in 1985, one year after the release of “The Karate Kid.” It starred, among others, William Zabka as bully Greg Tolan. “The Karate Kid,” which was shot when Zabka was 18, was Zabka’s first ever film role, though he went on to make appearances in five other movies and four TV shows in the 1980s alone.
The very first after “The Karate Kid,” however, was that of Greg Tolan in “Just One of the Guys,” a jealous and pugnacious high-school bodybuilder, who leads a pack of bullies and picks fights with multiple characters throughout the film, echoing strongly his “Karate Kid” role.
In the clip above, Greg sucker punches Rick Morehouse (Clayton Rohner), the male lead, unprompted, leading to a scuffle where Greg throws multiple characters into the ocean. Similar to “The Karate Kid,” however, Rick returns later in the scene to fight Greg, trouncing him after numerous punches to the face.
In a later scene in the cafeteria, he triumphantly lifts up a bench where a group of nerdy students are sitting, causing them to slide down to the floor.
Interestingly enough, Zabka’s first ever on-screen role, in the ABC TV series “The Greatest American Hero” in 1983, shortly before “The Karate Kid,” was that of a nerdy science fair student. In the clip, his voice is notably higher-pitched and more nasally. It wasn’t until his breakthrough as Johnny Lawrence that he was seen more fitting as a meathead bully.
Zabka Says He Was “Not At All” A Bully In Real Life
Although some might assume he was typecast for the role of Greg Tolan immediately after his role as a bully in “The Karate Kid,” Zabka persists that the characters he portrayed did not reflect who he truly was as a teenager.
He told Vanity Fair in 2018 that while he felt like a “fish out of water” after moving from New York to California at age 10, he knew how to stand his ground and defend himself. “I grew up throwing fists and getting hit,” he said. “My dad taught me how to fight really young. He’d take me down to the basement and let me punch him in the jaw, to let me know what it felt like to hit someone… It sounds harsh, but it was the 70s, man.”
Zabka has spoken out against bullying in the real world, especially in the modern era, which he says is “way worse” than when he was younger due to cyberbullying. “My heart breaks,” the actor said in a 2018 CineMovie YouTube interview, “it really breaks for kids that are bullied or intimidated. It’s not physical — it’s more than the physical, that’s the least that hurts.”
He also said that adults could take note from “Cobra Kai,” by “stepping in and trying to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” including by encouraging their children to take martial arts to defend themselves.
Zabka did reflect in a 2018 Sports Illustrated interview, however, that after auditioning with Ralph Macchio for “The Karate Kid,” Macchio told him that Zabka “scared the s*** out of me.” It wasn’t until they started shooting that Macchio realized Zabka’s character was not at all that of Johnny Lawrence’s.
To see more of the now-reformed bully Johnny Lawrence, tune in to “Cobra Kai” on Netflix. Season 4 will be released December 31.