Who is Mike Barnes? ‘Cobra Kai’s latest ‘Karate Kid’ legacy character, explained

Sean Kanan in 'Cobra Kai' season five
Photo via Netflix

The wait is almost over, karate kids, because Cobra Kai is about to return for its fifth season in September. On top of introducing fan-favorite new characters like Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), the Netflix — formerly YouTube Red — smash has become such a hit with viewers thanks to its ongoing commitment to bringing back characters from the original Karate Kid movies.

With Ralph Maccio’s Daniel LaRusso and William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence in the lead, previous seasons have also reintroduced major characters like John Kreese (Martin Kove) and Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). One of the few still outstanding is now confirmed to be appearing in the upcoming fifth run. The first promo images for the new season have arrived, revealing our first look at Sean Kanan back as another old rival of Daniel’s, Mike Barnes.

So why is this a big deal? Who is Mike, what’s his history with LaRusso, and how could he fit into season five?

Mike Barnes’ role in The Karate Kid Part III

The Karate Kid Part III
via Columbia Pictures

Kanan’s Mike Barnes was introduced in 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III, essentially filling the role Johnny played in the first film by facing Daniel in the latest All-Valley Karate Tournament as the prize student of Cobra Kai. Except while Johnny had some humanity to him, Mike was a much more ruthless and vicious opponent.

Having made it his mission to destroy Daniel as revenge for his friend Kreese, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) decides to hire Barnes, a karate prodigy whose merciless technique has earned him the nickname “the tournament terror.” In order to convince him to join Cobra Kai, Silver agrees to give Barnes 50% ownership of the Cobra Kai dojos he intends to build should he win.

Throughout the film, Barnes and his lackies relentlessly terrorize Daniel, even threatening his life by dangling him over a cliff-edge and destroying a priceless bonzai tree belonging to Mr. Miyagi. By the time of the tournament, Daniel admits that he’s scared of Barnes — something he never says about any other opponent. Despite verbal abuse intended to rile him up, Daniel manages to both master his fear and keep his cool enough to beat Barnes and win his second consecutive tournament.

Barnes is left furious and humiliated in defeat and, with Silver’s plans to franchise Cobra Kai going down the toilet, he loses his reputation and promised riches.

How could Mike Barnes factor in to Cobra Kai season five?

Given the fact that Barnes may be Daniel’s toughest foe ever, fans have long wanted to see him return in Cobra Kai, and now we know they’ll be getting their wish in season five. So how will he factor into this season’s storyline? At the time of writing, no details have been revealed about the character’s comeback, but we can speculate what could occur.

Season four ended with the unthinkable happening as Cobra Kai defeated Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang at the All-Valley Tournament, meaning that Silver’s long-held dreams of opening multiple Cobra Kai dojos is finally happening. So with Silver framing his old partner Kreese and putting him behind bars, it only makes sense that the villain’s turning to an old ally in Barnes to help him crush Daniel and his enemies once and for all.

Remember, Daniel has likewise asked another of his old opponents for help — Karate Kid Part II‘s Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) — so we might be headed for an epic battle between these three karate masters. As much as a rematch between LaRusso and Barnes is exciting, the idea of Daniel’s two most dangerous foes facing off against each other is even more thrilling.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are a couple of fan theories out there that ponder if Barnes could be the dad of one of the next-gen characters. With Miguel determined to find his father, some have speculated that his biological dad could be Barnes. It’s possible, although Miguel’s plotline this season will take him to Mexico City and Barnes appears to be back in the Valley.

The other idea, then, is that Barnes may be the absent father of Tory Nichols (Peyton List), which seems a lot more plausible, especially as Tory looks set to embark on a redemption arc this year. Her pivot away from Cobra Kai would hit a lot harder if she’s also standing up to her dad in the process.

Cobra Kai season five premieres on Netflix this Sept. 9.