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Tyson captivates Tide, Saban with life lessons

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Saban and Tyson on being a champion (1:32)

Nick Saban and Mike Tyson share lessons on what it takes to be a champion. (1:32)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, once hailed as the baddest man on the planet, urged the Alabama football team in a raw, impassioned speech not to make the same mistakes that derailed his career and sent his life spiraling out of control.

"It was all an illusion," Tyson told Crimson Tide players on Thursday night. "I had no reason to show love to anybody. The more I hurt people, the more people loved me. The more I knocked guys out, the more I broke their ribs, broke their eye sockets, the more people loved me. So what was I to think? I hurt everybody. I hurt women. I hurt my friends. I hurt strangers. I had no concept of myself. I didn't know who I was. I was this boxer who hurt people. I always had to be 'Iron Mike.'

"You gotta love yourself before you can love one another and your teammates. There was a time I didn't love myself."

Tyson served three years of a six-year federal jail sentence after being convicted of rape in 1992 and returned to the ring in 1995.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has routinely brought in guest speakers during preseason camp to talk with his team, and many of those speakers have been high-profile athletes who've overcome adversity or battled some type of addiction. In past few years, former baseball star Darryl Strawberry and former basketball star Chris Herren have come to speak to the Crimson Tide.

Tyson, getting emotional at times, didn't hold back as he discussed all of the people he hurt in his life, his trust issues as a young kid after being born to parents addicted to drugs, and how he lived in pain for much of his life before surrounding himself with the right people and "achieving peace."

Tyson also drew hearty laughter with some of his uncensored humor.

"When I conquered everything I wanted to conquer, I wanted to conquer myself," Tyson said. "I became a drug addict and lost all my money. Just more pain. I got in a situation where I was bankrupt. I lost $400 million. Can you imagine that s---?"

A few Alabama players asked Tyson questions such as what his favorite fight was. Tyson's answer: his infamous loss to James "Buster" Douglas.

"Because of what it taught me," Tyson said.

One player wanted to know whether Tyson thought he could beat WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, who is from Tuscaloosa.

"In my prime, I think I could have beaten God, but I've moved on," Tyson said. "That's not who I am anymore. This is my prime now."

Another player piped up and asked Tyson, "Why did you bite that dude's ear off?" -- referring to Tyson's disqualification after biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear in their second bout in 1997.

Tyson flashed a toothy grin and cracked, "I don't give a f---."

But over and over, Tyson reminded the players that there would always be consequences for their actions and that they should not follow his lead.

"God loves me, and I came to that conclusion," Tyson said. "I thought I was tough by knocking people out and being vicious, doing anything I wanted to do. That's not what it's all about. It's just like winning a championship. It teaches you how to win over yourself. To win a championship, you've got to fight yourself, fight your fear of losing or looking at your teammate and feeling like you didn't do your best.

"We're all accountable. But if we can't be responsible for ourselves, how can we be responsible for one another? That's what this world is about, being responsible. It took me forever to learn that."

Tyson, now 53, lives in California and founded Tyson Ranch, a company designed to make cannabis universally understood and accepted. Tyson, however, warned Alabama players not to sacrifice their careers or livelihood just for the sake of smoking marijuana.

"I had to pay $250,000 once to the boxing commission because I was smoking before a fight," Tyson said. "A joint ain't worth that much, and it's not to you, either."

Saban and Tyson spent time in Saban's office before the speech, and their conversation was riveting and humorous. They talked at length about the sacrifice it takes to become a champion.

"It's not human nature to be a champion. Human nature is to be average, to get by, to do what you have to do to get by," Saban said. "You have to be special to be the best you can be. You have to be special if you want to be a champion. ... I guess you have to be a champion before you can ever win a championship."

Added Tyson: "It's a lifestyle. I was a champion at 13 years old because my lifestyle was a champion. I went to bed every night. I trained every night. I worked every morning. Everything I did was consistent with being the best."

One of the funnier moments came when Saban asked Tyson to sign a pair of boxing gloves that were hanging in his office. Tyson saw they had already been signed, and when told that boxing promoter Don King was the one who signed them, Tyson bellowed, "S---, y'all will let just anybody in here."

Tyson famously sued King, alleging the promoter cheated him out of millions of dollars over the course of a decade.

To this day, Tyson talks with reverence about his deceased trainer and manager, Cus D'Amato, and how Tyson was never the same as a boxer after D'Amato died.

"I remember thinking at first, 'What is this old, fat white guy going to teach me about fighting?'" Tyson recounted to Saban.

Immediately, Saban jumped in and asked Tyson how D'Amato was able to earn that trust.

"He made me believe I was a somebody when I was a nobody. He made me a somebody," Tyson said. "I was totally loyal. I would have killed somebody for him."