ANTHONY JOSHUA rounded on some of the “clowns” and critics he believes regard him as an easy target.

There is little question that the 33 year old – perhaps still the poster boy of heavyweight boxing but no longer the golden boy of the British fight scene in the way he was when becoming an Olympic champion at London 2012 and retiring Wladimir Klitschko in 2017 – has been subjected to increased criticism in the years since Tyson Fury launched his comeback.

That he is perceived to be in competition with someone increasingly regarded as one of the finest heavyweights in history is unquestionably relevant, but for all that Joshua largely refuses to respond  to those criticisms, it has been increasingly apparent the extent to which they have got under his skin.

When he contacted Angel Fernandez even before losing his undefeated record to Andy Ruiz Jnr it was tempting to believe that he had done so because of the comparisons he was enduring with Fury and his rival’s fluid, cultured style. Throughout the course of the first of his defeats by Oleksandr Usyk he appeared convinced he needed to outbox a masterful fighter who had never previously been outboxed, and though he then recognised he needed greater intent and aggression in their rematch, by then Usyk had his measure and it was simply too late.

Joshua’s appearance, wealth and status account for the fact that so many others envy him, and in one of the most tribal of all sports and industries he risked renewed criticism when leaving Sky Sports for DAZN. But if his first fight with Usyk taught him the harshest of lessons – his first professional trainer, Tony Sims, had long rightly regarded him as at his best as a “wrecking ball” – before the second he confronted students at Loughborough University after they targeted him with cheap abuse.

His separation from Rob McCracken ahead of the rematch with Usyk attracted further criticism, and McCracken’s successor Robert Garcia was also critical of Joshua, almost certainly contributing to Joshua more recently recruiting Derrick James.

Whether his declaration his motivation to continue fighting is financial was a further demonstration of his relative sensitivity after so many years of admiration may yet become apparent on Saturday at London’s O2 Arena when he fights Jermaine Franklin, but the fact that he is back fighting at a venue not big enough to stage him in the previous seven years is likely also on his mind.

“These people that talk about me are looking for me to say something back but I don’t have much to say because these people are not on my level,” he said, speaking on Wednesday and no doubt picturing those he had in mind. “What do I want to entertain a clown for? That’s what it is.

“If someone has got something to say to me, they can call me; they have my number. I don’t need to go online and voice my opinions on my enemies, I prefer to be silent.

“If I have something to say about you, you will see me face-to-face. I will not go online and do it from behind a camera.

“When these people see you, at a press conference or whatever, they go, ‘AJ, how are you mate?’. How does that work?

“When it was [Carl] Froch [long trained by McCracken] I messaged him direct and said ‘What you talking shit about me for? Message me.’

“With [Amir] Khan and that shit with his missus, why was he going online? Just message me if you have something to say.

“I just find it awkward because my background, where I come from, it’s not about chasing clout – it is about results.”

Results, more than anything, are what are likeliest to silence those he is referring to. It may even be that, not unlike the great Lennox Lewis, who was only widely and truly appreciated in retirement, it will take Joshua retiring for them to cease.

A victory over the 29-year-old Franklin when he is already the significant favourite for a fight being billed by DAZN and Matchroom as “New Dawn” won’t be sufficient in isolation, but if James has noticeably improved the already impressive Joshua seen in the rematch with Usyk under Garcia – perhaps by encouraging a consistent return to his combination punching – then some of the snobbery in the undertones of some of the criticism that has hurt him and even hindered him as a fighter may lessen, even if egotistical and attention-seeking criticisms won’t.

Joshua was relaxed, to the point of laughing, when sat at the top table of his press conference on Wednesday, suggesting he is confident of victory at the very least. Perhaps more relevantly, and even appropriately, he contrasted the “mentally defeated” fighter Garcia said he saw during the course of their only fight.

“When it comes to your head coach I think it is important to keep things in-house, especially when you are talking about your fighters,” he said. “There are things I didn’t like about some of my old coaches that I could talk about but I don’t.

“No one is perfect but, when you come together in arms to go to war, there should be a level of respect. I have worked with Sean Murphy and John Oliver in the amateurs; all the GB coaches; Tony Sims and Rob McCracken in the pros; Angel Fernandez; Joby Clayton; Robert Garcia and Derrick James and Garcia is the first one to say the things he said.

“And I didn’t like that, I found it weird. I am not perfect, trust me, I do have tough days in camp, but he went and pointed those things out, out of all the things we did in training camp.”