Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are the headliners of Cobra Kai, but its the young performers who really drive the story.
Perhaps more than any other, actor Xolo Maridueña shines in the show.
Even before Cobra Kai, Maridueña appeared on some major, major TV shows.
Most people who first press 'play' on Cobra Kai are likely doing it because they recognize stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. The duo, returning to their Karate Kid roles 34 years after the debut of the original film, are clearly the headliners here. But what ends up happening as viewers get deeper into the series and more and more into the story is that not only do they get invested in, and care about, Zabka and Macchio's characters, but they get into the next generation of Karate Kids too—and Xolo Maridueña, as Miguel Diaz, leads the way.
Miguel, as played by Maridueña, is the neighbor of Johnny Lawrence (Zabka), and he starts the series off in a familiar place. He's a kid without many friends, and without much skill. It doesn't help that he's sort of socially awkward. But he's got one thing really going for him—he's a good kid. (Really, the spirit of Cobra Kai is that it's so good, and so well-meaning that it's hard not to root for some of these characters. They are just so nice.) Miguel grows over the course of the series, and Maridueña plays him alongside veterans like Macchio, Zabka, and Martin Kove as the evil John Kreese to perfection. As much as the whole Karate ratchet that he gets involved in might corrupt him (or, at times, seemingly corrupt him) we never see him change deep down. He's a good kid, and he was raised well—and this always seeps through everything else.
Maridueña, along with his co-stars Mary Mouser, Tanner Buchanan, Jacob Bertrand, and Gianni DeCenzo, all do a great job of portraying the next generation of Karate Kid. Zabka and Macchio are great, and they're clearly the draw. But it doesn't take long until we're deeply invested in stories, waiting eagerly to see what happens in scenes that our old Karate Kid friends aren't even a part of.
While his status for Season 3 is a little bit unknown after that big Season 2 cliffhanger—we're pretty confident we haven't seen the last of Miguel. If Johnny is the new Miyagi (well, you know what we mean), then Miguel is his Daniel. That's the show. He'll be back. In the meantime, though, you can find out a little bit more about the talented Maridueña right here.
At 19, he's already a TV veteran.
If Maridueña seems like a natural to you on on Cobra Kai, well, that's probably because in the last few years, he's had the chance to work with some of the best of the best when it comes to television.
While his list of credits includes an episode of the Rush Hour TV series and this year's Peacock animated show Cleopatra In Space, his most prominent role was in Parenthood, the NBC drama created by Jason Katims (who is also known for Friday Night Lights and just recently landed another hit with Netflix's Away). On Parenthood, he appeared in 51 episodes as Victor, the adapted son of Julia (Erica Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger).
He was a small but memorable part of one of the greatest TV shows ever.
The project that most stands out on Maridueña's pre-Cobra Kai resume is a memorable role in the most legendary episode of David Lynch's 2017 Twin Peaks: The Return. Nearly 30 years after his cult-favorite original series left the airwaves, Lynch returned for an 18-part series in 2017 that was pure, unfiltered, David Lynch. And in the 8th episode of that series, shit really went off the wall.
The episode is as surreal and uncompromising as anything you'll ever see on TV, and while Maridueña's character doesn't have a name that stands out—he's just "Boy (1956)"—his role is wildly memorable. He walks past a gas station in the episode, and as he walks a girl back to her home, both of them find a penny. It all doesn't sound like much—but in the context of Twin Peaks, it all fits memorably, like a surreal, horrific painting. By the time you finish this episode, it'll all be burned deep into your brain.
Essays have been written about the episode and it will continue to be analyzed for a long time.
His training for Cobra Kai isn't as much pure Karate as you'd think.
While Maridueña's Karate moves are certainly impressive in the show—and with Johnny Lawrence as his sensei, how could they not be?—he's downplayed the amount of Karate that actually goes into his training. Instead, he's said that the majority of what he and his castmates are doing to get in fighting shape is stretching. He explained in more detail to Slashfilm:
We definitely do keep up with training, but it’s a lot of stretching more than anything. A common misconception is that it’s Karate 100% of the time and that’s all that we’re doing. To be quite honest, Karate is probably the least of what we train in. We train with stretching and boxing I would say 70-80% of the time. The rest of that is Karate.
In another interview, he said that he played Tennis and Basketball, so he expected Karate to come back to him easily (he had previously taken lessons when he was much younger). This was not the case, as he described in a video with J-14 that the workouts were significantly more strenuous. The key, he said again, is stretching.
"Stretching is 90% of the work," he says. "The kicks, and stuff like that, all come so much easier when you know how to stretch."
He's a frequent Instagram poster—and he's rocking some different looks right now.
Season 2 of Cobra Kai, you should remember, debuted in spring of 2019. And that means it was filmed around the previous winter. That means the last you've seen of Miguel Diaz in the show was probably filmed around 2 years ago—so it shouldn't be all too shocking to see Maridueña, mid-pandemic, looking a bit different. He posts frequently to Instagram, and you can see his bearded new look amid a sea of fan art, behind-the-scenes photos, and personal photos.
A post shared by Xolo Mariduena (@xolo_mariduena) on Aug 19, 2020 at 11:36pm PDT
He's not always rocking that beard, though. Below you can see some photos of him and costar Jacob Bertrand (Hawk) both rocking long locks atop their heads (not like their Cobra Kai cuts at all).
A post shared by Xolo Mariduena (@xolo_mariduena) on Sep 11, 2020 at 11:48am PDT
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