Though never officially toe-tagged, the aforementioned affluence of the Attitude Era collapsed around itself between 2001 and 2002. WWE won a wrestling war when Vince McMahon purchased WCW, but an inward-looking Invasion quickly melted the ultimate golden goose. McMahon's other pillars simultaneously crumbled; an exhausted and exasperated Stone Cold Steve Austin burned out and walked out, Hollywood took The Rock and didn't give him back, whilst The Undertaker and Triple H basked so liberally in the unearned extra spotlight that their King of the Ring 2002 main event literally looked like they'd taken the day off to go sunbathing.
The company needed stars and workers, but draped their salvation in poison.
The New World Order had rocketed WCW to the top of the wrestling world in 1996, but Vince McMahon's brutally reimagined version of the of the stable had become every bit as toxic as his character had masochistically promised months earlier. They were a 'lethal dose' inflicted on a company he was losing grip of in storylines, but the reality was even more tragic. Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived in February, and were already split by March. Hogan's babyface turn predated Scott Hall's alcoholism-related release by a month, leaving the injured 'Big Sexy' and unfairly tarnished tagalongs X-Pac and The Big Show flying a tattered and torn black and white flag.