Photo: Jeff Sherwood

Christopher Schnake -- best known to mixed martial arts fans by his ring persona “Big Poppa” Schnake -- died Monday morning. He was 37. confirmed the news with Schnake's longtime friend and business associate, Victory Jay, who wished to be referred to by his alias.

Jay learned of Schnake's passing on Monday, when he received a call from Schnake's roommate. Schnake was returning from a trip to Texas, where he announced King of the Cage “Kingpin” on Saturday, Aug. 27. Jay recounted the days surrounding Schnake's passing to on Thursday evening:

“[Schnake] called me after the show from his hotel room, just to shoot the s--t. We were catching up, and stayed up until about two in the morning watching the ProElite stream,” Jay told “And he mentioned that he had collapsed at the show. He told me, 'Man, I gotta get my diabetes under control. But that was it. It wasn't so serious. It was just him saying, 'I really feel like s--t, you know?'

“He flew out to Milwaukee the next day. I tried getting a hold of him, but his phone went straight to voice mail. I didn't think much of it. Then I tried calling [later] about five times and even left him a Facebook message. Then I got a call from his roommate at about four in the morning on Monday.

“Schnake lived between Chicago and Milwaukee. It's about an hour drive. He pulled over to a rest stop to take a rest and just passed away in his sleep. There aren't really any details yet. The family is doing an autopsy, and that hasn't come back yet, but I have to assume it was health-related just given that he spoke to me the night before about getting his diabetes under control.”

Known for his colorful on-air persona, Schnake served as both an in-cage announcer and a radio personality. Before becoming a cult icon in the MMA world, however, he was working for little-to-no pay at local shows in the midwest.

“Back in 1996 or 1997, when we got our start, neither one of us were promoting. We were setting up the cage and tearing it down. I got my start selling T-shirts, and he would announce,” recalled Jay. “Probably for the first three years [of our relationship], we would travel show to show, and that's where we developed our friendship, in the trenches.

“We were living out of my van, sleeping at rest stops. It wasn't until about 2002 when I started promoting my own show that Schanke would announce those shows. And then it was really kind of a co-op business. But even today, Schnake wasn't in this for the money. He loved the sport. He is MMA.”

Shortly before his passing, Schnake started a business with Jay called CageTix, a service designed to effectively streamline the selling of tickets for local shows. Fighters forward friends and fans to the website, with the fighter receiving a cut from every ticket sold at no extra cost to the promoter.

Jay hopes that the company will serve as a lasting legacy for Schnake's impact on the sport and will also serve to benefit the surviving members of Schnake's family.

“We put our heads together and agreed that there are still [things] wrong with MMA promoting, and asked ourselves what we could do to fix them. This is what we came up with, and it works brilliantly,” said Jay. “On his end, Schnake was bringing in all the shows that he promoted and would receive a kickback from that. Now that he's no longer here, I still want to honor that.

“For any show that Schnake dealt with, or any show that wants to be a part of Schnake's memorial fund, we're going to donate to Schnake's family for every ticket sold. The service is at no cost to the promoter, and this is a way that Schnake's family can continue to receive donations for years to come.”

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