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Kevin Eck is a former member of the WWE creative team and now blogs about pro wrestling for PressBox.
Here are my selections for the best performers and performances in U.S.-based pro wrestling in 2017.
This is the first of two parts. The awards for Feud of the Year, Match of the Year, Tag Team of the Year, Female Wrestler of the Year and Male Wrestler of the Year will be revealed Jan. 10.
Newcomer of the Year: Flip Gordon
Just two years after making his pro wrestling debut on the independent scene, Gordon signed with Ring of Honor this past spring and quickly made an impact on an international stage. Even though ROH has a roster full of talented high-flyers, Gordon's incredible agility and innovative moves make him stand out.
The 26-year-old Gordon, whose background includes amateur wrestling, mixed martial arts and gymnastics, paid his dues for several months in ROH before gaining his first win in August. By October, he was wrestling in main events against Bullet Club. Although the Kalispell, Mont., native is portrayed as a rube in his ongoing feud with Bullet Club on the group's "Being The Elite" YouTube series, there's no doubt that working with the popular faction both in and out of the ring has helped Gordon get over. Look for Gordon to rise to even greater heights -- pun intended -- in ROH in 2018.
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year: Braun Strowman
When Strowman made his debut in WWE as a member of the Wyatt Family in 2015, it was easy to dismiss him as a guy with minimal talent who was rushed to the main roster simply because of his massive size. However, the more we saw of Strowman -- especially in 2017 as he moved his way up the card -- the more it became obvious that the 6-foot-8, 385-pound "Monster Among Men" was anything but a lumbering giant.
Despite never working on the independents or appearing on NXT television during his time in WWE developmental, the multi-time strongman competition champion has become a solid worker and carries himself like a main-event star. Naturally, his offensive repertoire consists mainly of power moves, but Strowman also has shown impressive athleticism for a man his size. Strowman winning either the Universal or WWE Title in 2018 seems like a sure thing.
Non-Wrestler of the Year: Daniel Bryan
It's a cruel irony that Bryan -- one of the all-time great in-ring performers -- is the pick for best non-wrestler. Bryan, who was forced to retire in 2016 at 34 due to concussion issues, has really settled into his role as the "SmackDown Live" general manager. Thanks to his performances and the creative team's writing, Bryan comes off very believable and entertaining in his authority figure role.
In WWE, where there is a plethora of larger-than-life characters, Bryan stands out for his understated demeanor. That's not to say that Bryan can't ramp up his intensity and cut a great promo when the situation calls for it, as evidenced by his performance on "SmackDown Live" before "Survivor Series" when he did a better "Paul Heyman promo" than Heyman himself had done the night before on "Raw." Moreover, the verbal sparring and tension between Bryan and Shane McMahon has arguably been the most compelling aspect of WWE TV the past couple months.
Most Entertaining Act of the Year: Bullet Club (The Young Bucks, Cody, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll and Adam Page)
Pro wrestling purists may hate the antics of The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson), Cody, Omega, Scurll and Page, but there's no denying the impact of this subgroup of New Japan Pro Wrestling's Bullet Club. Thanks in large part to Bullet Club, ROH is coming off the most successful year in the company's 15-year history.
Much of the criticism of Bullet Club is directed at The Young Bucks, whose matches unapologetically have one high spot after another, minimal selling and -- of course -- superkicks galore. For those who "get it" -- and a lot of fans do -- it all makes for a fun experience. In one of the most entertaining matches of the year -- a 10-man tag match pitting The Young Bucks, Cody, Scurll and Page against Los Ingobernables de Japon during ROH's UK tour in August -- a stuffed animal actually became a focal point of the match, culminating with the Bucks hitting a devastating double-team maneuver on the prop. The entertainment goes beyond the ring as well, as the sextet's behind-the-scenes exploits are chronicled on their popular "Being The Elite" YouTube series.
Catch "The Hot Tag" every Wednesday on PressBoxOnline.com, and follow Kevin Eck on Twitter, @KevinEck_WWE.