Mike Barnes Is Another Karate Kid Wrinkle In the Cobra Kai Story
Cobra Kai has never been short on bad guys. This is a show where the hero named one of his young charges “Penis Breath,” so you can only imagine what the actual villains get up to. As Season 5 kicks off, however, it’s unclear just who the antagonist is. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) has turned away from the dark side and merged his start-up Eagle Fang dojo with Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) Miyagi-Do Karate. John Kreese (Martin Kove) was sent to prison in the Season 4 finale thanks to Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) framing him for a beating he didn’t deliver and stealing Cobra Kai from his clutches.
Who is even left to terrorize the karate-obsessed teens of the San Fernando Valley and their martial arts aggrieved fathers (and father figures)? Terry Silver is still the big bad, hiding his menace under large charitable donations and a single silver curl of Khaleesi hair. But one is not enough for this show. When they need more characters they go where they always go: to the Batcave! Wait. Wrong show. To the old movies, particularly The Karate Kid Part III.
When Daniel is obsessing about Silver’s next move, he knows he’ll call up some old friends. And the only friend of Silver’s that Daniel knows is Mike Barnes, the former Bad Boy of Karate that he defeats in the climax of KKIII. We never get to see that epic fight in this season, so here is a reminder of just who Mike Barnes is, how he started working with Terry Silver, and why he and Daniel have not just beef, but really, really old dry-aged beef.
Who is Mike Barnes in The Karate Kid Universe and Cobra Kai Season 5?
KKIII is … not a good movie. It currently boasts a 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is watchable because of how absolutely insane the plot is. It picks up with Daniel and his mentor Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) landing from their trip to Okinawa in The Karate Kid Part II. Kreese wants his revenge for Cobra Kai losing to Daniel in The Karate Kid: Part I The Force Awakens, but there are two problems: Daniel doesn’t want to compete anymore and Martin Kove, who plays Kreese, had to film another movie so he couldn’t be in much of KKIII. The solution was Terry Silver, a billionaire baddy who was Kreese’s Vietnam War buddy and silent partner in Cobra Kai all along, who would take Kreese’s place.
This is not only familiar to loyal Cobra Kai viewers but has been expanded in flashbacks throughout Season 4. Silver’s plan to get Daniel is two-fold and absolutely bonkers. He’s too old to compete in a tournament for teens (as was Ralph Macchio, a mature 27 when it was filmed) so he finds a story about “Karate’s Bad Boy” Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) in a martial arts magazine. Silver flies him out to Los Angeles, introduces him to his henchmen (who even has henchmen?) Snake (Jonathan Avildsen) and Dennis (William Christopher Ford), and tells him to start intimidating Daniel until he agrees to fight again.
Meanwhile, Silver impersonates a poor karate master and tries to get close to Daniel, who has opened a bonsai tree shop in a sketchy part of the city with Mr. Miyagi. His plan is to start training Daniel in the “strike first” ethos of Cobra Kai and separate him from Mr. Miyagi and his “defense only” school of karate.
Mike takes Snake and Dennis to the bonsai shop where Daniel is hanging out with his girlfriend Jessica (Robyn Lively). Oh wait. That’s right. Lively (Blake’s older sister) was only 16 when they filmed the movie, so they couldn’t insinuate anything bow-chicka-wow-wow was happening between her and Daniel. (And this is before Jessica returns in Season 5 and we find out she is the cousin of Daniel LaRusso’s wife, Amanda.) Anyway, the three heavies try to convince Daniel to sign up for the All-Valley Tournament but he refuses. They trash the shop and beat up Daniel before Mr. Miyagi arrives and gives all three his patented wax-on, wax-off treatment.
To pay for the repairs to the show, Daniel and not-his-girlfriend Jessica go to retrieve a special bonsai tree that Mr. Miyagi and Daniel planted in a sea cave for safe keeping. Daniel and Jessica repel into the cave to retrieve it but Barnes and compant pull up their ropes and leave them stranded at the bottom of the cave. As it is quickly filling up as the tide rolls in, Daniel agrees to sign the tournament application so that he can get the ropes back and save himself and Jessica. The bonsai, which Barnes tears in half and throws into the salt water, isn’t so lucky.
We all know the story of Silver training Daniel and how he eventually finds out that Silver, Kreese, and Barnes are all working together. He goes to the tournament to defeat Mike and put this rivalry to rest for good (oh, just wait 30 years and at least 5 seasons, Daniel-san). Of course, Mike won’t fight fair, kicking Daniel in the old family jewels before deploying some illegal punches to really deliver the pain. Naturally, all he needs is a pep talk from Mr. Miyagi about having his best karate still inside him, and one decisive blow, to be the all-Valley champion once again.
And now we get to the present-day. Is Mike Barnes still bad? Is he still doing karate? Is he, once again, a double agent working for Silver the whole time? Looks like you’ll have to make your way through Cobra Kai Season 5 to find out.
Brian Moylan is the New York Times best-selling author of _The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives and has written about television and pop culture for the New York Times, The Guardian, Vice, NBC News, and a few outlets that are NSFW. He lives in London, his DMs are open, and he is probably thinking about dessert.
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