By Phil Barnett
Carl Froch believes his explosive sparring sessions with fellow Englishman Tony Bellew ahead of next week's IBF title defence against Yusaf Mack could prove to be tougher than the fight itself.
The Nottingham super-middleweight regularly trades blows with his fiery compatriot in training and despite their friendship, the pair are unashamedly spiteful inside the ring.
Froch, 35, also benefits from his connections with the Team GB set-up due to trainer Rob McCracken's role as performance director in Sheffield and regularly spars with the cream of the country's amateur talent.
Ahead of his November 17 defence against Mack in Nottingham he has worked with two former amateur stars - Commonwealth Games gold medalist Courtney Fry and ex-Olympic hopeful Callum Smith - as well as Liverpudlian hardman Bellew.
All three are natural light-heavyweights and should prepare Froch well for his meeting with Philadelphian Mack, who is dropping down from that division to attempt to spring a massive upset.
"Sometimes sparring is tougher than the actual fight," Froch told Press Association Sport. "It's very intense, especially with Tony Bellew because we don't pull any punches in there.
"We train and spar like we're fighting because that's how you need to be. You need to get that mindset and let your big shots go, because what you do in sparring and training, you do on fight night too.
"It can be very tough, but it's all part and parcel of it."
Froch added: "Courtney Fry is a light-heavyweight, Tony Bellew is a very strong light-heavyweight and Callum Smith is going to fight at super-middleweight as a professional but had stepped up to light-heavyweight as an amateur before turning pro.
"They are all big lads, tall and rangy and strong. It's a big advantage to get great sparring. It's is one of the most important aspects of your training camp and sometimes you struggle to get the sparring. You fly them in from America and they don't want to be here, you get them from Europe and stay a week before going home.
"But we've got serious fighters here who are serious about the sport and want to do well.
"Tony Bellew is on the fringes of fighting for a world title. Callum is eager, he's just turned pro and wants to show he's a contender.
"We've never used Courtney Fry for sparring before but he's tall and rangy and throws a lot of straight punches like Mack and he's bigger and heavier than me.
"So it's been brilliant to have good, all-round sparring this camp."
Froch defends the belt he won in May - with a five-round bludgeoning of Lucian Bute - at the Trent FM Arena in his native Nottingham a week on Saturday.
He does so with a slight injury inflicted by Fry in one of their recent sessions.
"I got elbowed on the nose on Friday but it's nothing serious," said 'The Cobra'.
"It's nothing serious, I got some butterfly stitches put on as a precautionary measure, more than anything else, because I didn't want it to get any worse.
"It happened in round one of the sparring session and I did a 12-round spar that day, we just patched it up and went again. It's fine and it's healed up."
Phil Barnett covers boxing for PA Sport