Prior to being signed by WWE, Ruud competed in several independent promotions in both the United States and Japan. In 2007, he competed under the ring name Thoruf in Pro Wrestling Noah in Japan, where he competed in both tag team and singles matches, albeit without much success. Following his tour in Japan, Ruud returned to the United States in 2008 and began competing under the ring name Thoruf Marius for the Minnesota-based F1rst Wrestling promotion. Upon joining the promotion, he began feuding with Brody Hoofer, with the pair exchanging wins across several events.
Florida Championship Wrestling (2011–2012)
In February 2011, Ruud signed a developmental contract with WWE and was assigned to their developmental territoryFlorida Championship Wrestling under the ring name of Erick Rowan. He made his FCW TV debut in August 2011 with a win over Kenneth Cameron, while being accompanied by Byron Saxton and James Bronson. To tie in with Saxton's feud with Titus O'Neil, Rowan and Bronson lost to O'Neil and Leakee in a tag match. Although Rowan continued to compete in both singles matches and tag matches with Bronson, he was not involved in any further feuds and did not challenge for any titles on FCW TV.
The Wyatt Family - Erick Rowan (left), Bray Wyatt (center) and Luke Harper (right)
When WWE rebranded its developmental territory, FCW, into NXT Wrestling, Rowan made his debut on the December 12, 2012 episode of NXT as a follower of Bray Wyatt, who introduced Rowan as his "second son". As a member of the Wyatt Family, Rowan formed a team with Wyatt's "first son" Luke Harper, and they defeated Percy Watson and Yoshi Tatsu on the January 9, 2013 episode of NXT. On the January 23 episode of NXT, Harper and Rowan again defeated Watson and Tatsu in the opening round of the NXT Tag Team Championship tournament. Following a win over Bo Dallas and Michael McGillicutty in the semi-finals with Wyatt's interference, Harper and Rowan were defeated in the finals by Adrian Neville and Oliver Grey. On the May 2 episode of NXT, Harper and Rowan won a triple threat elimination tag match by last pinning tag champion Neville. On the May 8 NXT (taped on May 2), Harper and Rowan defeated Neville and Bo Dallas, filling in for the injured Grey, to win the tag titles. On the June 5 NXT, Harper and Rowan successfully retained their titles against Corey Graves and Kassius Ohno. On the June 19 NXT, the Wyatt Family defeated the team of Graves, Neville and Ohno. On the July 17 NXT (taped on June 20), Rowan and Harper lost the NXT Tag Team Championship to Adrian Neville and Corey Graves.
From the May 27 episode of Raw, WWE aired vignettes promoting the upcoming debut of the Wyatt Family. The vignettes showed the Wyatt Family's backwoods origins and Rowan wearing a sheep mask. On the July 8 episode of Raw, the Wyatt Family made their debut by assaulting Kane. Rowan made his WWE in-ring debut on the July 26 episode of SmackDown, where he and Harper defeated Tons of Funk (Brodus Clay and Tensai) in a tag team match. Over the next few months, Rowan and Harper went on a winning streak over many teams, until Cody Rhodes and Goldust handed them their first loss on the October 11 episode of SmackDown.